L9-1920s - Dr tonya thames taylor West Chester...

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Dr. tonya thames taylor West Chester University--American History Since 1865 Lecture 9: 1920s Mass culture expanded across America during the 1920s, the result of several forces. One of these forces was an increase in mass consumerism during that decade. After a brief post- war depression, the economy of the United States began to recover in 1922. In fact, during the 1920s the country’s gross national product - that is, the total value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. - increased by 40%. Thus, more goods and services were available for purchase; and because wages and salaries also rose during this period, Americans had more purchasing power. And they began to spend money as they had never spent before. Many of the goods bought required modern technology, which began reaching more people than ever. By 1929, two-thirds of all Americans lived in dwellings that had electricity, compared with the one- sixth who possessed it in 1912. Thus, by the end of the decade families began owning electric vacuum cleaners, and electric toasters. Many could afford these and other items such as radios, washing machines, and movie tickets only because more than one family member worked or because the head of the family took a second job. Nevertheless, new products and services were available to more than just the rich, and a materialist desire to possess these goods spread throughout society. The most important of the new purchases was the automobile. By 1926 a Ford Model T cost under $300 - this was at a time when industrial workers earned around $1,300 a year and clerical workers about $2,300. The car became a source of pride as well as a means of transportation; no sacrifice was too great to obtain one. Thus when an interviewer asked a rural housewife why her family owned a car but not a bathtub, the woman retorted, “Bathtub? You can’t go to town in a bathtub.” Obviously, the working class could not afford many of the goods, but they could afford at least some of them. And thus the new consumer trends spread beyond the upper and middle classes as indoor plumbing and electricity became more common in private homes, and canned food, varied diets, ready-made clothes, and mass-produced shoes became more affordable. Egged on by advertisers, spending became a national pastime. In step with this consumer trend was the increasing urbanization of America. In 1920, for the first time, the federal census revealed that a majority of Americans, 51.4%, lived in urban areas (defined as locales with 2,500 or more inhabitants). This demographic transformation continued throughout the decade as an estimated 6 million Americans left their farms for nearby or distant cities. As urban growth occurred, so too did suburban expansion. Indicative of this change was the attitude of urban intellectuals and writers of the period who adopted a disdain for old-fashioned values of small towns and rural areas. Both Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Wolfe
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The 1920s , American History Since 1865,
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L9-1920s - Dr tonya thames taylor West Chester...

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