The roaring 1920’s describes a period in the American history after World War I distinguished by significant socio-cultural changes, organized crimes and the great economic depression. Fashion entered the modern era with the trendy flipper fashion making a significant impression.
The film and music industry underwent a transformation with the introduction of sound featured films. The dance clubs gained popularity during this epoch often christened ‘the Jazz age.’ The 1920s period was marked with breaking away from traditions caused by the introduction of new fashion and dance.
At the same time, the 1920s era was marked by rise in the level of organized crime including the Mob who had much influence in the American society and government coupled with speculative investment that led to decline in stock prices causing a major economic depression.
The Icons of the Roaring Twenties
The 1920s epoch was characterized by a flourishing nightlife in cities such as Chicago with many nightlife establishments hosting popular dance bands, dancing contests and life radiobroadcasts for the audience (Kyvig 2001, 234).
However, social evils such as prostitution and gambling flourished at the same time leading to prohibitive drinking laws in major cities. Dancing boomed in the 1920s with many social and ethnic groups attending nightly recreational dance halls popularly known as cabarets. The cabarets were influential to the majority of fashionable middle class.
The nightclubs combined fashionable jazz music, public dance halls that hosted dancing competitions, and beer gardens for drinking. The nightlife flourished despite prohibition from the council authorities regulating drinking. Prostitution and gambling arose with the active nightlife
The entertainment industry including the film industry flourished in the 1920’s with a rise of music stars and motion picture production (O’Neal 2005, 58). The film industry’s relocation to Los Angeles facilitated the rise of Hollywood movie stars who lived luxurious lifestyles and had a lot of fanatical support.
This marked the Golden era of Hollywood. Silent films were predominant in the early twenties but all this changed in 1927 with the introduction of the jazz singer, Al Jolsen. Before then, stars of silent films like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin were the only brilliant entertainers of the early 1920s.
Buster Keaton is another comedian star of the silent films before the invention of the talkies that transformed the film industry. The genres of the films included war, romance, biblical stories performed by Cecil Demille and silent comedies.
The fashion of the 1920s was marked by the introduction of the flipper fashions, new hairstyles that were a breakaway from the traditional past and the jazz music. The flapper fashion and hairstyles faced resistance from older generation up to 1925 when the new fashion was embraced contributing to significant transformation of the 1920s. The flapper dresses were short, unlike the traditional long Victoria-like dresses. The flappers also wore stockings and makeup unlike the traditional mode of dressing.
The Mob in the United States
The 1920s saw the rise of organized criminal gangs in the American Society. ‘The American Mafia’, also called the ‘Mob’ arose with the aim of offering protection to the immigrant community without the involvement of the police or local authorities (Dickie 2004, 125).
The 1920s National prohibition to regulate drinking gave rise to organized gangs with national and international connections. Enforcement of the prohibition legislation faced opposition from notorious gangs such as the Al Capone’s mob of Chicago. The efforts to stop drug smuggling were deterred by organized smugglers with support from corrupt government officials and other international gangs.
Stock Market Crash of 1929
The roaring 1920s decade was a period of wealth and economic prosperity especially in the manufacturing industry; for instance, “the automobile output increased exponentially between 1925 and 1929 period” (Henretta and Brody 2010, 67).
Business earnings also increased sharply during this period and the middle-class became wealthier investing in residential homes especially in Florida. However, towards the end of this decade, “a slump in share prices in New York Stock Exchange led to a major financial crisis that halted the flourishing economy” (Lange 2007, 81).
This crash is the infamous 1929 ‘Great Depression’ which led to business uncertainty affecting job security of American workers. Because of decline in stock prices, many investors faced financial difficulties that led to shut down of many businesses and resultant mass unemployment. This affected all industries including the then booming film industry.
New economic policies developed by the new administration helped to overcome the effects of the great depression. The economic recovery programs; known as the New Deal, allowed the federal government participation in social and economic projects of the citizens.
The New Deal led to the establishment of democratic governance that enhanced support for individual and community rights for all citizens. Before the 1929 stock market slump, the stock prices were rising which attracted huge investments. However, speculations over instability of the stock market led to panic selling of the shares causing the prices to go down.
The decade of 1920s was an era of break away from traditional lifestyles into modernity. Introduction of trendy fashions like flappers, jazz music and musical bands were popular in this era. The film industry underwent a major transformation with the relocation of the movie industry to Hollywood and the innovation of ‘talkies’ in sound films.
However, the roaring era faced threats from organized criminal gangs like the Mafia that increased insecurity in cities. In addition, the stock market slumping of 1929 affected the flourishing investment industry affecting the lives of many Americans.
Dickie, John. 2004. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Henretta, James, and Brody, David. 2010. America: A Concise History, Volume ll: Since1877. Fourth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Kyvig, David E. 2001. Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise & Pain. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Lange, Brenda. 2007. Milestones in American History: Stock Market Crash of 1929: The End of Prosperity. London: Chelsea House.
O’Neal, Michael J. 2005. America in the 1920s. London: Chelsea House.