Roaring Twenties: 1916–1929



The Roaring Twenties were a period of postwar elation. Mass production of goods and installment plans gave more people access to automobiles, leading to urban growth. Regional differences blurred as radio broadcasts brought exposure to different cultural influences. Epitomized by the emergence of the flapper, women broke through social barriers to express themselves. To avoid discriminatory Jim Crow laws, African Americans from the rural South migrated to northern cities. The Harlem Renaissance, a groundswell of African American culture, brought black artists, writers, and musicians to the nation's attention. Prohibition led to organized crime, and a laissez-faire attitude toward business left room for corruption. The Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty and Kellogg-Briand Pact signaled efforts to avoid another war.

At A Glance

  • Isolationism, unemployment, and a series of terrorist acts provoked nationwide panic over communist radicalism. Alarm manifested itself in vigilante attacks on union rallies and in raids that rounded up thousands of immigrants for deportation
  • Prohibition outlawed the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol, but it had an adverse effect on American society and led to the rise of speakeasies, bootlegging, and organized crime. After 13 years the law was deemed unenforceable, and Prohibition was repealed.
  • In 1925 the Scopes trial held the country's attention as a teacher was tried, convicted, and fined for teaching evolution in a test case brought by the ACLU. The event prompted widespread debates about evolution and the separation of church and state.
  • Following World War I, mass production and the growth of American consumerism—especially with the use of installment plans and credit—grew hand in hand.
  • Automobiles changed where Americans lived, worked, and played—leading to the growth of larger communities. Businesses took advantage of radio broadcasts to reach customers with on-air advertising.
  • Entertainment in the form of new musical styles, radio programs, and movies enthralled Americans and began minimizing regional cultural differences. Boxing, football, and baseball captured the imagination of millions.
  • Following World War I, the flapper became the symbol of the "new woman," who pursued social and intellectual liberation.
  • The Great Migration (1916–70) marked the exodus of African Americans from the South to escape segregationist Jim Crow laws and find economic opportunity in other U.S. regions. This population shift led to increased diversity and social tensions in northern and western cities.
  • The Harlem Renaissance—the emergence of black culture that flourished and spread from the Harlem neighborhood of New York City—contributed heavily to every aspect of creative arts in the United States.
  • During the Harlem Renaissance authors Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and James Weldon Johnson, along with painter Aaron Douglas, changed how many viewed African Americans and the African American experience.
  • Author Zora Neale Hurston and sculptor Augusta Savage contributed powerfully to the Harlem Renaissance as they crafted vibrant literary portrayals of African American culture and robust sculptural forms.
  • A laissez-faire attitude toward business and the economy dominated the prosperous 1920s under Republican Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Hoover wasn't a laissez-faire advocate; he supported some regulation of business. Economic expansion, based on credit, showed signs of failing even before the stock market crash began the Great Depression.
  • After the stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression, President Hoover's response was cautious. He ultimately received the blame for the country's tribulations.
  • To promote peace, the United States signed the Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The nation became the world's chief creditor, investing billions of dollars into the postwar recovery of Europe.