Revision Diary

The Promised Land?   The USA in the 1920s


Mass production (e.g. Ford and the motor industry); consumer boom; hire purchase, purchase of shares; stock market boom.

Continuation of poverty (e.g. farmers); Afro-Americans.

Ku Klux Klan and racism; Prohibition; organised crime, e.g. Al Capone.

Developments in entertainment e.g. Hollywood, jazz. The flappers.


Make sure you have detailed factual knowledge about AND HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT the following issues and topics:


1.  The 1920s Economy.

2.  The Roaring Twenties.


and that you are able to explain:

3.  WHY did the American economy boom in the 1920s?

4.  WHY did the Americans introduce prohibition? [A CRIME]






The 1920s Economy



In the 1920s the annual Gross National Product of the USA increased 40% and the income per person 27%.   Key features of the boom were mass production (e.g. Ford motor cars), a consumer boom (including buying things on hire purchase and buying) a stock market boom.

However, at the same time many Americans did not share in the prosperity, especially farmers, coal and textiles workers, and Black Americans.


●   Boom [ACCESS]

▫   Automobiles: in the 1920s the number of motor cars owned by Americans rose from 8 million to 23 million; by 1925 Ford were producing a car every 10 seconds.

▫   Cycle of prosperity: more sales = more production = more wages = more spending = more sales….

▫   Consumer durables’ for the home such as fridges, vacuum cleaners, record players/ electrical goods – number of telephone doubled/ number of radios increased from 60,000 to 10 million PLUS the invention of bakelite (the first plastic), cellophane and nylon.

▫   Entertainment Industry: boomed (Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin, ‘talkies’ and cinemas, jazz clubs and speakeasies)

▫   Stock Exchange: there was a ‘Bull market’ (rising share prices) on Wall Street.

▫   Skyscrapers – e.g. the Empire State Building

●   Poverty [FLOP]

▫   Farming - falling prices.  In 1929 farmers’ wages were only 40% of the national average, half a million farmers a year were going bankrupt.   Rural areas did not have electricity.

▫   Low wage earners - inequalities of wealth; the top 5% of the population earned a third of the income, while 40% were below the poverty line.

▫   Old Industries – declining industries in textiles and coal (being replaced by oil and gas); in 1929 a coal miners’ wages were only 33% of the national average.   There were 2 million employed throughout the 1920s.

▫   Poor Black Americans - 1 million black farm workers lost their jobs in the 1920s – Black workers were stuck in low-pay, menial jobs – many people in New York's black Harlem district had to sleep in shifts, going to bed when others went off to work.   ‘Rent parties’ on Saturday nights, to raise money to pay the landlord on Sunday.



WHY did the American economy boom in the 1920s?


a.  Population growing rapidly increased demand for consumer goods.

b.  Abundant raw materials – esp. coal, iron and oil – allowed cheap production

c.  Tariffs – protected American industry from competition


d.  Government –relaxed regulations and reduced taxes (this is called ‘laissez faire’)

e.  Opportunities of New Technology (e.g. electrical goods, radio, film, nylon)

f.   Techniques of production– Ford’s Assembly line method, and Frederick Taylor’s time and motion


g.  Cycle of prosperity – increased prosperity increased prosperity.

h.  Advertising (e.g. billboards, radio commercials,)

i.   Sales methods (e.g. commercial travellers, mail order, chain stores such as Woolworths)

j.   Hire Purchase – instalments allowed people to buy now, pay later.






The Roaring Twenties


The 1920s were the time of a great social boom (cinema, jazz, dances) – especially for women (work, the vote, flappers) and Black Americans (famous Black Americans, Harlem Renaissance, NAACP).   There were many good things about the 1920s.

However, at the same time there were many bad things - the 1920s were a time of racism, prohibition and organised crime.



●   Social Boom

▫   Cinema: by 1930, 100 million Americans went to the movies every week.e.g. stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Clara Bow (the ‘It’ girl); the first ‘talkie’ (The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson); colour films; Disney cartoons (Mickey Mouse).

▫   Jazz: The first jazz record was made in 1917 by the Dixieland Jazz Band.   Stars such as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton.   Black musicians were seen as wild and exciting.

▫   Dances: e.g. the Charleston and the ‘Black Bottom’ (first recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and named after a Black neighbourhood in Detroit).

●   Women

▫   Work: in the 1920s the number of working women increased 25%, especially teachers and secretaries.

▫   Vote: In 1920 the 19th Amendment gave women the vote.

▫   Flappers: short skirts and hair, and the flat-chested 'garconne' look.   They wore men's clothes, smoked, drank, used make-up, danced wildly in jazz clubs and were sexually active. 

●   Black Americans

▫   Famous Black Americans such as the sprinter Jesse Owens, the baseball player Jackie Robinson, the dancer Josephine Baker.

▫   Harlem Renaissance of jazz musucians, but also Black architects, novelists, poets and painters who believed in 'Artistic Action' - by proving they were equal to Whites.

▫   NAACP campaigned for Black Rights.



●   Racism

▫   Immigration laws: e.g. Quotas, the Red Scare and the Sacco-Vanzetti case.

▫   Ku Klux Klan: had 5 million members by 1925.   They wore white sheets and hoods, marched with burning crosses and talked in a secret language called 'Klonversations'.   They tortured and lynched mainly Black Americans, but also Jews, Catholics and 'immoral' people such as alcoholics, while the police turned a blind eye.

▫   ‘Jim Crow Laws’ in the southern states prevented Black Americans from mixing with whites ('segregation'), and denied them civil rights and the vote.

●   Prohibition

▫   In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution made the manufacture, transport or sale of alcoholic drinks illegal.  The Volstead Act declared any drink more than 5% proof 'alcoholic'.

▫   In 1929, 50 million litres of illegal alcohol were discovered and destroyed.

▫   Selling alcohol ‘went underground’ – speakeasies (illegal bars), moonshine (illegally-made alcohol), bootlegging (smuggling alcohol to sell).   It is sometimes asserted that there were more speakeasies than there had been saloons (not true, but there were 200,000 speakeasies in 1933).

●   Organised Crime

▫   Flourished during prohibition – gangsters ran the speakeasies and bootlegging, protection rackets, prostitution and drug-running, and bribed police, judges and even Senators.

▫   The most famous gangster was Al Capone (had an army of 700 mobsters, and murdered more than 200 opponents – the most famous incident was the St Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929, when 'torpedoes' from Capone's gang shot dead 7 members of Bugs Moran's gang).

▫   The most famous lawman was Eliot Ness (and his ‘Untouchables’ – un-bribable policemen)



WHY did the Americans introduce prohibition?


a.  Anti-Saloon League campaigned that drink hurt families because men wasted money on beer.

b.  Christian organisations such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

c.  Rural Americans were shocked by flappers and speakeasies.

d.  Isolationists claimed that most of the beer drunk in America was brewed in Germany.

e.  Madness, crime, poverty and illness were seen as caused by alcohol – many ‘signed the pledge’ not to drink.

f.   Easy Street, a comic film by Charlie Chaplin, showed how drink damaged people.


Revision Focus

This is a Paper 2 topic, so you need to have factual KNOWLEDGE IN DEPTH but also a degree of understanding which will allow you in the exam to write MULTI-CAUSAL EXPLANATIONS of the key issues.



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