During the 1920s, American businessmen replaced political reformers as exemplars of progress.
At the same time, tensions mounted between traditional values and modern conditions, rural and
urban life, and admirers of consumerism and critics of vulgar materialism, while champions of an
idealized, white-male America railed against the rise of "new women," "New Negroes," and an
expanding immigrant population. In many ways, Henry Ford symbolized the tensions that defined
the era. From a rural background, he made his way to Detroit, Michigan, where he tinkered with
the internal combustion engine, created the Ford Motor Company, and became the embodiment
of American industry and free enterprise. Although Ford identified with the common folk and
remained nostalgic for rural values, his assembly lines reduced Ford workers to near robots, and
the idyllic past he commemorated at his Greenfield Village museum excluded the African
Americans and immigrants who toiled in his River Rouge factory.
The New Era, pp. 830-840
President Calvin Coolidge declared that the business of America was business. In many ways,
his statement defined the 1920s. Amid all the tensions, an unprecedented flood of new consumer
items entered the marketplace, and progressive calls for government regulation were rejected in
favor of a revival of the old free enterprise individualism.
A Business Government
During the postwar conversion from a wartime to a peacetime economy, economic problems
loomed large. The unemployment rate was up to 20 percent by the winter of 1920-1921. The
Republicans nominated Warren G. Harding for president, even though he did not have strong
political convictions. Harding's campaign called for a return to normalcy. The "return to normalcy"
was a term that he invented during his campaign to get the point across that after the turmoil of
the previous era the country needed a return to normal procedures. Harding's good humor and
optimism toward the future dissipated the strife of the times and gave Americans feelings of
optimism. Harding chose many talented men as cabinet officers; they would run his government
for him. He also chose several loyal friends for high office—men who used their positions for
personal gain. The Harding administration focused on domestic prosperity, high tariffs to support
American business, price supports for agriculture, and a return to unregulated business activities;
these positions made him quite popular. However, Harding's administration suffered because of
his willingness to trust friends who ultimately betrayed that trust and rocked the nation with some