Here's the story of how American culture and values changed during the 1920s.
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Once upon a time, a horrible war known as World War 1 devastated the planet. Immediately after the war, a lot of people in the United States were passionate about various causes, some good, some not so much. While women had finally won the right to vote and Prohibition passed, there were also riots directed at African Americans and the Red Scare aimed at Communists. Things got better for everyone, however, when the economy flourished. A lot of people were making a lot of money.
They spent this money on the newest and coolest technology. During the 1920s, electricity became a mainstream thing. In 1907, only 8% of households had electricity in the United States. By the end of the 1920s, 68.2% did. More Americans began to buy automobiles (aka cars), telephones, radios, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and washing machines. They watched more and more motion pictures (aka movies or films) in spectacularly designed movie theatres. By the end of the decade, three-quarters of Americans went to a movie theater every week. And now, viewers could HEAR the people speaking in the motion pictures. In the 1920s, Hollywood became the film capital of the world.
Americans began to have more leisure time. With more leisure time, American culture flourished. Americans became even more innovative. A new genre of music, called jazz, entered the mainstream, and dance clubs featuring jazz popped up across the country. New dances like the Charleston, the Fox Trot, and Lindy Hop all became popular. Teach me how to fox trot. Teach me teach me how to fox trot. Giant skyscrapers climbed up. Architects designed magnificent structures...many of them still stand today. The arts thrived. Some of the greatest writers of the 20th century, names like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, part of the “Lost Generation,” came of age during the 1920s. The 1920s was also the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural explosion drawing black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars to Harlem in New York.
With more leisure time, fads like flagpole sitting became popular. People would compete to see how long they could sit on a flagpole, with some sitting up there for weeks to set new world records. Another fad, dance marathons, exploded as couples competed to dance for as long as they possibly could, competing for money. Vending machines, crossword puzzles, and Mickey Mouse all originated in the 1920s.
Perhaps no other fad is so distinctively 1920s than the rise of flappers. Flappers were fashionable young women who rejected the more conservative and conventional lifestyle of previous generations of women in favor of letting loose and having a great time. They bobbed their hair, wore short skirts and heavy makeup, and listened to jazz. They were influential in the fashion world. Women overall began to wear more revealing and flamboyant outfits. The flapper subculture even introduced new slang words. For example, you might walk down a city street and hear, “baby, you’re the bee’s knees.” Bee’s knees meaning an extraordinary person.
During the 1920s, for the first time ever, more Americans lived in cities than on farms.
Why have I brought all this up? Well, almost everything I have mentioned so far is related to why American culture and values began to change during the 1920s.