August 24, 2010

American Lifetsyles of the 1920s

Between 1919 and 1929, the gross national product rose by 40 percent. During this decade mass production made America the richest nation in the world, giving birth to the culture of consumerism and materialism. In 1919, the 18th Amendment passed the Act of Prohibition, which made consumption and even possession of alcohol illegal. Prohibitionists thought that prohibition would alleviate social problems. The law was difficult to enforce and opened the door to speakeasies where illegal booze could be purchased. The making of homemade bathtub gin and gangsters and bootlegging became rampant. Subsequently, prohibition ushered in an era that would catapult American society into the modern age, the fabulous Roaring Twenties.

Postwar disillusionment, deflation, depression, and unemployment plagued 1920 and 1921, and in 1922 recovery helped to raise the standards of living and was followed by years of economic prosperity for many Americans. The cost of living kept in line with wages and incomes. Americans began to spend money or to make purchase on time. Consumerism flourished and as the roles of people changed, so did their lifestyles. Technology played a vital part in delivering the economic and cultural good times that most of America enjoyed during the 1920s.

Technological advances rose at a rapid pace and by the mid 1920s, 35 percent of the population was wired for electricity. New products poured into the market. Electrical sewing machines, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, mixers, stoves, toasters, irons, hot-water heaters, space heaters, and refrigerators made life easier and convenient for the modern housewife. Canned food, household appliances and ready-made clothing further liberated the average woman who now had more time on her hands.

However, it was the nineteenth amendment and womens' right to vote that ushered in the era of the new woman, as her taste of independence during the war years made her an empowered decision maker. Women were not about to relinquish their new roles. In the age of the Gibson girl, women did not openly date and waited until marriage to have sex. A battle of morals waged. Margaret Sanger who advocated for birth control, gained a large following in even respectable circles.

Birth control had been around since the beginning of time, but now it was advocated more openly and partly because of the new era which, gave rise to another new woman called a flapper. She drank, smoke, cut her hair short in a “bob.” She wore outrageous make-up, short dresses, long jewelry and powdered knees with turned down stockings. She danced, went to petting parties and flaunted her sexuality. She led another revolution for women’s clothing and many women adopted the shorter dress and a "no corset image." With the Flapper's focus on dieting; her popular look propelled a significant change in the dietary habits of Americans as a whole — less fat and meat, and more fruits and vegetables and an interest developed in nutrition, caloric consumption and physical vitality. The discovery of vitamins and their effects also occurred around the same time. Countervailing tendencies lay in cigarette consumption, which rose to roughly 43 billion annually, and bootleg liquor became a $3.5 billion-a-year business during the same period.

Changes in lifestyles influenced clothing, hairstyles and lifestyles set precedence for the Art Deco architecture, art, d├ęcor and home furnishings, which all flourished during the 1920s. However, it was the automobile that would dramatically alter lifestyles. With the automobile came freedom to travel and necessitated the construction of paved roads. An abundance of fuel increased migration from farms to cities and cities to suburbs, where consumerism and materialism continued to foster a new mass culture. The American public flocked to Vaudeville, movie houses, and sporting arenas. Baseball, dance marathons, flagpole sitting, flying stunts and daredevil aviation became the rage. The first talking picture was introduced in 1922 and would consequently explode the movie industry into a permanent cultural necessity. The radio became a national pastime and further whetted Americans appetite for materialism and became one of the decade’s most influential advertising agent.

The Roaring Twenties was an age of happiness and prosperity for the American family, yet the typical American was still hard working and sensible. Workweeks became shortened for industrial workers, white-collar workers often enjoyed a full weekend off, and annual vacations became a standard job benefit. Americans in general were living longer and began to think in terms of planning for retirement and old age. What most Americans did not consider planning for is that the stock market would never quit increasing and that the American lifestyle of the 1920s while fundamentally sound, would come crashing to a halt for many, on October 24, 1929.

1 comment:

  1. During this decade mass production made America the richest nation in the world, giving birth to the culture of consumerism and materialism.visit