Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Roaring 20's

The decade of the 1920s can be seen as one of the most prosperous decades in American history. From 1922-29 the unemployment rate never surpassed 5%, technology allowed for an increase in efficiency, productivity, and the availability of a wide variety of new consumer goods. In 1920 Ford released the model T, which sold a meager 8 million cars to the American public, in 1929 one in every 5 American families own a car. Other popular goods were telephones, washer and dryers, iron, radios, and vacuum cleaners. There was an increase in the selection of agricultural goods as well due to improvement in farming technologies and distribution services. The improvement in the US roadways and the development of the traffic light allowed for American families to more conveniently partake in leisure activities such as camping, going to the movies, amusement parks, and sporting events. Corporations seeking to expand now needed much more capital, they began to go public by selling shares of stock, more and more Americans began investing in the stock market. The led to the creation of the New York Stock Exchange in 1972, in order to facilitate these types of transactions.
Although there was an overall increase in wages and consumption there remained a gap between those who could afford these new products and those who could not. Companies developed the consumer credit system that allowed consumers to acquire goods by making a down payment, and then paying off the balance monthly with interest added. Now that consumers had such a wide selection of goods and services, companies began to used strategic advertising methods. I was evident that there was a wide social movement within American society that entailed self-improvement and personal pleasure. There for new advertising companies emerged that used psychology and a foundation in order to attract consumers. Luxuries like perfume, cosmetics, fashion, games, and toys all geared their adds to housewives, children, and working men, assuring that these goods would reinforce their social status and satisfaction.
Attitudes towards sex and marriage took a noticeable shift as well. The new modern couple were more like partners as opposed to unequal. They participated in all sorts of fun activities together as though they were discovering the pleasures of life together. Many younger middle class women became more open towards sexuality, wearing short dress, smoking, using lipstick, and dancing provocatively.
As communication and entertainment systems became a part of the American social culture, popular celebrities began to emerge. The level of fame and recognition that people like Babe Ruth or Charles Chaplin achieved was paramount, never before has Americans been so obsessed with these icons; in order to meet the demands tabloids and entertainment news stories blossomed. This marked the beginning of a new mass popular culture that not only defined America, but placed us in the world's spotlight.
The 1920's did bring an increase in the overall quality of wealth for the new middle and upper class but unfortunately, most of the unskilled working class suffered despite of economic growth. As new machines and technologies replaced unskilled workers their wages were down, placing them at a great disadvantage. In 1921 the Supreme Court banned striking and picketing by employees, which further discouraged union membership causing them to fall to about 10% of America's workforce.
Working class women were also affected as job opportunities favored their male counterparts. In addition to having to work in harsh industries such as meatpacking, they were often segregated and paid much less than men. However white-collar work did attract many women as the demand for secretaries, bank tellers, department store clerks, and accountants increased. If she possessed any of these skills she had an upper hand in finding a good job, especially white women. The passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, allowed them to influence the political environment. In 1921 the Sheppard-Towner Act was passed that allocated federal funds to prenatal and child health care clinics nationwide, which would support the working mothers of America. Also in 1920, the National American Woman Sufferage Association changed to the League of Women Voters that encourage women to fun for office, educated women about issues, and provided assistance to the poor. Although this made great progress, it did not acknowledge or help African American women in achieving equality.

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