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The Decade That Roared

46. The Decade That Roared

Model T
Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
Model T — 1919

The 1920s saw the culmination of fifty years of rapid American industrialization. New products seemed to burst from American production lines with the potential of revolutionizing American life. Other products that had previously been toys for the rich were now available to a majority of Americans. The standard of living increased as the economy grew stronger and stronger. The results were spectacular. The America of 1929 was vastly different from the America of 1919.

The automobile was first and foremost among these products. The practices of Henry Ford made these horseless carriages affordable to the American masses. Widespread use of the automobile ushered in changes in work patterns and leisure plans. A host of support industries were launched. Dating and education were changed by the automobile. Radio usage brought further changes. For the first time, a national popular culture was supplanting regional folkways. Americans across the continent were sharing the same jokes, participating in the same fads, and worshipping the same heroes. Housework was minimized with the introduction of labor saving devices. As a result, leisure time was increased.

The bleak outlook and large sacrifices of the wartime era were now a part of the past. Young Americans were looking to cut loose and have a good time. Prohibition did not end alcohol usage. The romantic subculture of the speakeasy kept the firewater flowing. Organized crime flourished as gangland violence related to bootlegged liquor plagued America's cities. Flapper women strove to eliminate double standard values. Young females engaged in behaviors previously reserved for men including smoking and drinking. Sigmund Freud's assertion that sexual behavior was a natural instinct brought down more barriers as young Americans delved into sexual experimentation. The Harlem Renaissance brought a new form of entertainment. The sounds of jazz bands had appeal that transcended African American audiences, as thousands flocked to hear the new sounds.

The 1920s ushered in more lasting changes to the American social scene than any previous decade. Escapism loomed large as many coped with change by living in the present and enjoying themselves. The economic boom that unleashed the transformation and its consequences made the Roaring Twenties an era to remember.

On the Web
Picture Palace
Decades ago movies were too grand to be seen in mere theaters, so Picture Palaces sprang up in major American cities. Each was an "acre of seats in a garden of dreams," and some could hold as many as 6000 eager patrons.
Louise Brooks
Catch the spirit of Flapper Culture on this colorful website. Great art, great links. Your great- grandmother did what?
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