The Roaring Twenties

"America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but
 normalcy; not revolution but restoration; not surgery but serenity."


"The chief business of America is business. The man who builds a
 factory builds a temple—the man who works there worships there."



   I. Return to Normalcy
       A. End of World War I
            1. No worldwide peace, disarmament, harmony
            2. Bitter feelings & huge disillusionment in U.S.
       B. Refused to join League of Nations
            1. Adopted position of "independent internationalism"
                  • traditional unilateralism maintained
                  • gen'l isolationism restored
            2. Embarked on strong pacifist movement
            3. Represented rejection of global responsibility
       C. Gov't actions & policies
            1. U.S. tariffs
                  • Fordney-McCumber Tariff (1922) → unwise
                  • Hawley-Smoot Tariff (1930) → unwiser
            2. Attempts to ease Europe's economic woes
                  • Dawes Plan (1924) → three-way mess
                  • Young Plan (1928) → another rescue try
            3. Internat'l agreements, meetings, organizations
                  • Pact of Paris (1928) = 60+ nations outlawed war
                  • U.S. participation = none or limited
                      ✓ League of Nations
                      ✓ World Court
                      ✓ Locarno Agreements (1925)
                  • Attempts to limit naval aka military strength
                      ✓ Washington Conf. (1921) → 3 treaties
                      ✓ Geneva Conf. (1927) → unsuccessful
                      ✓ London Conf. (1930) → unsuccessful
  II. Conflict of Cultures
       A. Recipe for paranoia & hysteria
            1. Xenophobia: unwarranted contempt for foreigners
            2. Nativism: gen'l rejection of immigrants
            3. Communism = anarchism = unionism (perception)
            4. Supreme Court supported attack on civil liberties
                  • Schenck v. U.S. (1919)
                  • Abrams v. U.S. (1919)
       B. Resurgence of Ku Klux Klan (1915)
            1. Wm. Simmons & Hiram W. Evans at Stone Mtn.
            2. More targets (immigrants, Jews, Catholics, others)
            3. Influenced politics in many states, inc. Ind. & Ore.
            4. Membership peaked in 1924; big decline thereafter
       C. Red Scare (1919-20)
            1. Series of widespread strikes & bombings
            2. "Palmer raids" on suspected communists
            3. Gen'l Intelligence Division (aka FBI) est'd
            4. Alleged nationwide uprising on May Day 1920
       D. Sacco & Vanzetti murder case (1920)
            1. Unfairly adjudicated: "those anarchist bastards"
            2. Executed in 1927 after appeals & nat'l publicity
            3. Most recent evidence = Sacco guilty; Vanzetti no?
       E. Immigration quota system
            1. Limited immigration based on country of origin
            2. Emergency Quota Act (1921)
                  • 3% of nation's people in U.S. in 1910
                  • esp. affected "new" traffic from S & E Europe
            3. Johnson Act (1924)
                  • lowered to 2% of nation's people in U.S. in 1890
                  • barred East Asia completely
                  • Latin America & Canada unrestricted
       F. John T. Scopes trial (1925)
            1. Evolutionism vs. creationism
            2. Clarence Darrow vs. Wm. Jennings Bryan
            3. Tenn. biology teacher coerced by ACLU
            4. Fined $100 (dismissed on tech); law remained
 III. Roaring Twenties
       A. Prohibition aka the "noble experiment"
            1. 18th (1919) & 21st (1933) Amendments
            2. Maine #1 (about half prior to 18th)
            3. Wholesome country vs. decadent city
            4. Volstead Act = legal enforcement of prohibition
            5. Enforcement nearly impossible
            6. Lawlessness up; alcohol consumption down
            7. Organized crime flourished
       B. Women's movement = challenged "double standard"
            1. Symbolized by "flappers"
            2. 19th Amendment (1920)
            3. Wyoming #1 (actually New Jersey by mistake)
            4. M. Sanger → birth control (feminism + poverty)
            5. J. Rankin → 1st female member of Congress (Mont.)
            6. G. Ederle → 1st woman to swim Eng. Channel
       C. Black Americans
            1. Great Migration = South to North in late 1910s
            2. Wm. E. B. Du Bois
                  • Niagara Movement (1905)
                  • NAACP (1909)
            3. Marcus Garvey
                  • Back to Africa campaign
                  • "black is beautiful"
            4. Harlem Renaissance = flourishing of black art
            5. Jazz = improvisation + vocal blues
                  • New Orleans, then Chicago (mecca), others
                  • Cotton Club, Savoy Ballroom (both Harlem)
                  • Armstrong, Calloway, Ellington, Handy
       D. Entertainment & sports aka "ballyhoo"
            1. KDKA in Pittsburgh (1920 presidential election)
            2. Hollywood
                  • Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith (1st full-length)
                  • The Jazz Singer, Warner Bros. (1st "talkie")
                  • Steamboat Willie, Disney (1st animated)
            3. Babe Ruth (NY Yankees) & other sports, stars
       E. Literature
            1. Called themselves the "lost generation" (self-pity)
            2. Grim view of shallow high society; critical of U.S.
                  • The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot
                  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
                  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
                  • Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis
       F. Feats and fads
            1. Yankee Stadium constructed (1923)
            2. TIME magazine founded (1923)
            3. R. Byrd expeditions to Poles (1926 & 1929)
            4. C. Lindbergh → 33½ hr. across Atlantic (1927)
            5. Mt. Rushmore (S. Dak.) project started (1927)
            6. Marathons (dancing, pole-sitting, others)
 IV. Automobile Industry
       A. Henry Ford perfected assembly line process
            1. Used earlier by Oldsmobile
            2. Model T ("Tin Lizzie")
            3. Chief competition was Chevy & Dodge
       B. Alfred P. Sloan (GM) = "planned obsolescence"
       C. "Economic multiplier"
            1. Steel, rubber, upholstery, glass, more
            2. Service stations & motor hotels
       D. Route 66
            1. Chicago to Los Angeles
            2. Covered 2,500 mi. thru 8 states
            3. Highway equivalent of transcontinental RR
  V. Republican White House
       A. Harding: inept, limited mind, partier, womanizer
            1. Ranked low, low, low by historians
            2. Ohio Gang = "my damned friends"
                  • Sec. of Int. Albert Fall = Teapot Dome scandal
                  • Veterans Bureau chief Charles Forbes
       B. Election of 1924
            1. Coolidge (R) vs. Davis (D) vs. La Follette (P)
            2. Total GOP victory: White House & Congress
       C. Coolidge: passive, reserved, uninspiring, honest
            1. Slightly better than predecessor
            2. As Prez, lucky enough to be in right place at right time
            3. "The business of America is business"
       D. Election of 1928
            1. Sec. of Comm. Hoover (R) vs. Gov. Smith (D)
            2. Smith hurt by Catholicism & big-city ties
            3. Abandonment of Dem. Party by South noteworthy
       E. Hoover: capable, honest, dignified, stiff
            1. Unfairly blamed for Great Depression
            2. As Prez, unlucky to be in wrong place at wrong time
            3. "Nearer today to abolition of poverty than ever before"                   • Oct. 29, 1929 = "Black Tuesday"
                  • Sec. of Treas. Andrew Mellon's policies
                  • "Hoovervilles" = ramshackle communities
                  • Bonus Army incident (1932)
                  • did not address depression aggressively
                  • unemployment peaked at 25% in 1932-33
                  • 80% of states had ceased banking operations




  • "independent internationalism"
  • "return to normalcy"
  • Red Scare & "Palmer raids"
  • Scopes trial
  • Bible Belt
  • Clarence Darrow vs. Wm. Jennings Bryan
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Eighteenth & Twenty-first Amendments
  • Volstead Act
  • speakeasy
  • bootlegger
  • Andrew Mellon
  • "economic multiplier"
  • Fordney-McCumber Tariff
  • "Ohio Gang"
  • Albert Fall & Charles Forbes
  • Alfred E. Smith
  • "rugged individualism"
  • Agricultural Marketing Act
  • Hawley-Smoot Tariff
  • Washington Conference
  • Dawes Plan & Young Plan
  • Pact of Paris
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Great Migration
  • Marcus Garvey
  • William J. Simmons
  • The Birth of a Nation
  • Nicola Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti
  • nativism & xenophobia
  • immigration quota system
  • flappers
  • Anthony Amendment
  • Margaret Sanger
  • jazz
  • "ballyhoo"
  • KDKA
  • The Jazz Singer
  • "lost generation"
  • Charles Lindbergh & Amelia Earhart
  • Gutzon Borglum

The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville
Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero by Douglas Perry


  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: Excerpt from The Great Gatsby (1925)
  • Herbert Hoover: "Rugged Individualism" Speech (1928)


1.  Explain what President Warren G. Harding meant by "normalcy." To what extent did
     Harding's administration and that of Calvin Coolidge approximate this ideal?

2.  The 1920s was a period of tension between new and changing attitudes on the one
     hand and traditional values and nostalgia on the other. What factors led to the
     tension between old and new and in what ways was the tension manifested?

3.  "In both domestic and foreign policy the decade of the 1920s witnessed an almost
     continuous reaction from the idealism of President Woodrow Wilson." Assess the
     validity of this statement.

4.  Examine the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, nativists, and religious fundamentalists
     during the 1920s and discuss their impact on American society during that time.

5.  Discuss how the 1920s were manifested in American literature, art, and music.

6.  The American decade of the 1920s is often labeled the "Roaring Twenties." What is
     meant by this description? Cite specific examples.


  1. One manifestation of the 1920s fundamentalist movement was the
    1. Scopes trial.
    2. popularity of jazz.
    3. Washington Naval Conference treaties.
    4. construction of U.S. Highway 66.

  2. United States foreign policy during the 1920s was most successful in its attempt to
    1. guard American interests.
    2. promote global stability.
    3. restore American isolationism.
    4. prevent another world war.

  3. The Harlem Renaissance was the
    1. outpouring of black artistic and literary creativity during the 1920s.
    2. forerunner of the "New Negro" movement founded by Marcus Garvey.
    3. beginning of a national campaign to promote the economic status of blacks.
    4. rehabilitation of decaying urban facilities in New York City.

  4. All of the following were effects of Prohibition in America except
    1. growth of organized crime.
    2. per capita reduction in alcohol consumption.
    3. increased lawlessness and general disrespect for the law.
    4. rise in divorce rates among middle class families.

  5. During the 1920s, appointments to federal regulatory agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Reserve Board were generally
    1. liberal.
    2. Democrats.
    3. pro-business.
    4. corrupt.

Gutzon Borglum's original sketches for his Mount Rushmore carving showed two dignitaries—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. But by the time blasting began in mid-1927, plans expanded to include Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. President Calvin Coolidge was present to launch the project, calling it "a cornerstone laid by the hand of the Almighty." Immediately after the ceremony Borglum was hoisted up the mountain cliff to commence drilling strategic points for Washington's face. Click on the faces to access LECTURE GUIDE for this unit.


"Minnie the Moocher"   by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra