"For the healing of the nations there must be good will and charity, confidence and peace," President Calvin Coolidge declared at the end of 1923, as the shadow of WWI continued to loom over America. What was life actually like in the decade that came to be known as the Roaring Twenties? While most history textbooks emphasize the country's recovery from war, the 1920s were full of great change and progress for many Americans. During this decade, the economy doubled, meaning people bought more goods and had more time to invest in leisure activities. It was an era of seemingly endless prosperity, which came to a sudden halt when 1929's Wall Street crash triggered the Great Depression.
In those golden moments before economic disparity took hold, what did people do for fun in the 1920s? This was the decade in which national treasures like baseball, jazz, and cinema became entrenched in the common culture. It was the decade in which families sat around and tuned into their new radios to catch up on current events or fictional dramas. It was the decade in which automobile sales soared and car culture was born. It was also the decade of speakeasies, courtesy of Prohibition.
The next time you decide to sit on a flagpole, consult a Ouija board, or buy a raccoon fur coat, you can thank the Roaring '20s.
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Movies Took Center Stage In Popular Culture
Going to the cinema to see the latest Hollywood flick was one of the most exciting and captivating new forms of entertainment for folks in the 1920s. Movies were quite young at the time, and 1920s Americans were the first generation of audiences to become enamored with whatever was available to watch on the big screen. Hollywood put out more than 700 movies a year and quickly evolved into a cultural institution.
These films were also the source for the latest fashions, household items, and various other material goods, as advertising companies chalked up a pretty penny to have their products marketed in movies.
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The Radio Became A Beloved Household Centerpiece
By the end of 1929, 10 million homes in America were stocked with radios. Before the days of television, the radio was the main way individuals and families stayed connected to the outside world.
This extended beyond necessity, though, and was also seen as the primary source for entertainment. From sports to news to the arts, the radio broadcast it all. It was also a means for companies to advertise their latest offerings.
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Driving Around Town Was A Way To Be Seen - And Be Free
Thanks to advances in car manufacturing - which made cars safer, more comfortable, and more affordable - automobile sales skyrocketed during the 1920s.
The rise in driving was also a result of 1921's Federal Highway Act, which led to the construction of new roads, making it easier for people to get around. Leisurely driving became a favorite pastime, from autocamping families to cruising teenagers. Getting out and exploring the town was fashionable for millions of Americans.
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Live Sports, Particularly Baseball And Boxing, Became An Important Pastime
The 1920s were seen as the golden age of sports. With the horror of WWI just behind them and a new era of economic prosperity being ushered in, Americans sought any form of escape they could find. Many found such escape in baseball and boxing.
Baseball was mired in controversy in the 1910s - including the infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919 - but burgeoning legends like Babe Ruth reinvigorated the sport's popularity. Ruth was a literal game-changer, as he almost single handedly ushered in the era of the home run. During his first full season as a hitter, having transitioned from pitcher, he led the league with 29 homers. The runner-up had just 12. (The following year, The Babe hit 54 dingers.)
Boxing also became a glamorous and exciting sport for fans and gamblers alike. Those who couldn't be on site to see games or matches were able to keep up by listening in on their radios or reading the papers.