The 1920s was a decade of immense change, and people thrived because of the social and economic changes that were happening not only in the U.S. but in most of the Western world.
The 1920s were sandwiched in between World War I, which ended in 1918, and the Great Depression, which began in 1929, and the country experienced a lot of growth and prosperity during this time.
This is one of the reasons why the decade is nicknamed the Roaring 20s. It seems like everyone was experiencing change during this unique decade.
People From the 1920s: What Life Was Like
Life was bursting at the seams during the 1920s, in part because of the booming economy. For one thing, the number of people having electricity went from 12% in 1916 to 63% by 1927.
As a result, factories became more productive and people thrived because of it. Between 1922 and 1929, the nation’s gross national product (GNP) increased by almost 40%, and unemployment was very low.
Of course, it wasn’t just the economic changes that made the decade amazing. Social changes also were prevalent, especially for women.
In 1916, the first birth control clinic opened, and women began to enjoy sexual freedom they never had in the past. Women also received the right to vote in 1920, allowing them to gain even more power, especially when it came to the direction of the country.
Many women also went to work in the factories while the men were fighting in WWI, and a lot of them continued to work into the 1920s even after the men came home.
This gave them economic freedom they didn’t have before, and it allowed them to do more than just take care of their home. For women in particular, the 1920s was a time of immense social and economic changes.
Symbols of the 1920s
Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of this decade is that of the flapper, a woman who wore knee-length dresses, smoked and drank in public, wore short hair, and was very open about her sexual freedom.
It was completely opposite of previous decades and was a direct result of some of the things mentioned earlier. The 1920s were a great time for women who wanted to be less conventional.
Other things that made the 1920s so unique include the music. Jazz became incredibly popular, so much so that many people dubbed the decade the Jazz Age.
The music was just part of the culture that was flourishing and which included African-American art and culture, nicknamed the Harlem Renaissance. To be sure, there was a lot going on in the 1920s that made the decade totally unique.
As far as the significant events of the 1920s that contributed to this economic and social boom that was happening, the second Industrial Revolution resulted in even more changes.
For instance, the census in 1920 showed that this was the first time in U.S. history that most citizens were living in urban areas and not on farms. The decade also saw a huge rise in immigrants entering the country.
It Was Not All Good News
If you’re wondering whether this roaring decade was good to everyone, it definitely was not. At the beginning of the decade, the 18th Amendment, which outlawed alcohol, was in effect, and it wasn’t officially repealed until 1933.
In addition, while there was a rise in African-American freedoms and opportunities, this resulted in the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1924, the Immigration Act was passed which limited the number of immigrants coming into the country.
The richest 1% of the population received nearly one-fourth of all pretax income, which meant that roughly 60% of all families in the U.S. were making a mere $2,000 per year, which provided only enough money to cover “basic necessities.”
If you were a rural, non-white, or immigrant citizen, you were much less likely to benefit from the many advantages that occurred during the 1920s.
It was indeed a prosperous and growth-filled decade, but it was much more difficult for disadvantaged people to enjoy it than it was for people who were white and who already had a little money in the bank.
Other Things Contributed to the Success of the Decade
Yet another item that contributed to the success and boom of the 1920s is the number of writers that seemed to write about how great things were.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the most significant writers, and his books tended to capture the excitement of the decade that was partly the result of the disillusionment of the people who were coming of age at the end of the previous decade.
To be sure, in the years after the war ended in 1918, the country and its citizens were both in a “downturn,” especially economically.
WWI strained the country’s finances, as it did with other countries, and it took a few years for everything to return to normal. Writers such as Fitzgerald described these occurrences in detail and gave citizens a way to express how they felt about it all.
What About Western Europe?
In Western Europe, the 1920s were also bustling, although not to the extent that the U.S. was. In France, the decade was known as The Crazy Years (Les Annees Folles), and in Germany it was called The Golden Twenties (Goldene Zwanziger Jahre).
Britain was suffering with a scandal that involved the Bright Young Things, a group of affluent young people who had their own way of celebrating the decade.
Finally, the art world grew in popularity during the 1920s as well. For instance, the Art Deco style became very popular in architecture and design, while Surrealism (which grew out of the Dada movement that began in Zurich) became very popular as well.
It seems that in more than one way, the decade of the 1920s was bursting at the seams both in the U.S. and in Western Europe.
Significant People of the 1920s
As you can imagine, there were many people who gained notoriety and popularity during this decade, and they include:
- Charlie Chaplin, one of the best actors of the silent film era
- Greta Garbo, a well-known actress of the times
- Josephine Baker, an American living in Paris as a dancer, actress, and singer
- George Bernard Shaw, an Irish-born playwright who won a Nobel prize
- Georgia O’Keeffe, a Wisconsin-born artist
- Babe Ruth, a record-setting baseball player for 22 seasons
- Louis Armstrong, a jazz trumpet player born in New Orleans
- Coco Chanel, a clothing designer
- Pablo Picasso, a sculptor, painter, and ceramicist
- Albert Einstein, a world-renowned theoretical physicist
All of these people were significant and well-known during the 1920s and are still talked about today.
The 1920s, or the Roaring Twenties, was a decade filled with growth and change, both economically and socially. Women especially enjoyed freedoms they’d never had before, and in many ways, the decade was characterized by decadence and over-indulgence.
Thanks to the rise of industrialization and electricity use, the world was experiencing ways to enjoy life unlike in the past.
While not as prosperous as the U.S., Western Europe still enjoyed a lot of the advantages of the decade, enjoying freedoms that simply weren’t available to them in previous years.