The 20’s was a decade of prosperity and entertainment as well as conflicts. Historians emphasize how Americans were living a life of wealth, but forget to mention the problems of society. Cultural, economic, racial, social, religious and political conflicts that plagued America remain unnoticeable and silent in its history. Amongst the life of prosperity and entertainment of the 1920’s, the Americans suffered a life of unending conflicts. Prosperity of the 1920’s affected many Americans improve their lives.
Many middle-class citizens improved their standard of living by purchasing new products such as electric irons, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, toasters, fans, and refrigerators. They were now able to purchase these consumer goods because companies began to reward and pay their workers more money. These companies, such as Ford cars, doubled the wages of the workers at the plant in Highland Park, Michigan. Since wages increased, purchasing goods and cars became affordable. The increase in America’s wealth shifted the economy because businesses flourished to serve the needs of the consumers.
Not only were the consumers prosperous, but so were the business owners. Since Henry Ford offered a 5 dollar wage a day to workers of thrifty habits, his company earned an estimated $264,000 per day because of the sales so many different companies started to follow Ford’s reasoning of increasing wages. Not only did prosperity of Americans bring new consumer goods affordable, it also brought education to children and credit to shoppers. Most people could afford to keep their children in school longer because they were finally prosperous enough to survive without the children’s wages. By the end of the decade, 51 percent of all high school age youth were in school.
Credit was brought to shoppers because they were starting put money down and paying the balance in installments. Americans bought with credit because they regarded it as an easy way to raise their standard of living. The increase of wealth in the American society brought great change and benefits to the people. The prosperity of Americans reduced the time for jobs and housework, and gave them more leisure time for entertainment. Since Americans were able to afford a motor vehicle, it created a convenient way to get from one place to another.
The creation and sales of cars actually changed American culture in numerous ways. Teenagers were able to go to the movies for dates, families hopped into their cars for short day-trips, and people traveled to far distant places. New creations such as movies, sports, and jazz music promoted entertainment in the 20’s. The movies were a place that Americans escaped to a different world by watching others on motion pictures for the first time. Because people had the time, energy, and money to play sports, playing and watching it became widely popular. Entertainment in the 20s included listening to two types of African American music, which were the blues and the jazz music.
The style and culture of America changed from a life of hard labor and work to one of entertainment and high wages. Many people were able to enjoy recreation for the first time because of the entertainment the decade provided. Even though Americans prospered with lives of wealth and entertainment, economic conflicts drove many families to a life of poverty. Not all Americans were prosperous, such as farmers, miners, and textile workers. Farmers had replaced their workhorses with tractors that produced more wheat and corn than America would consume.
Because supply exceeded demand, farm prices declined and left the farmers poverty-stricken. The era of the 20’s brought hardships to coal miners because industries began to use electricity and no longer needed coal to run their machinery. Due to the changes in fashion, Americans were buying less cotton and the prices of them plunged. The decade also brought new technology that the family-run firms could not afford nor compete with the big business. Therefore, thousands of small firms went out of business or were absorbed into larger companies of corporations. The act of merging resulted in unemployment and job loss of many family-run firms and the establishment of oligopolies.
The oligopolies carried out unreasonable actions such as the American Plan and the Ford Treatment. The American Plan was a variety of plans for the large companies to demoralize and destroy unions. They employed workers with only yellow-dog contracts and spies who joined unions and then informed employers about labor discontent and identified labor organizers. Companies such as Ford demanded discipline and prohibited many actions. Not only did the poor experience conflicts, but the wealthy stock buyers did as well.
The investors believed in speculation, which was buying on margin and paying the brokers back later. The stock market crashed and people failed to repay their loans. The conflicts of the 1920’s were just as important or even more than the prosperity. There were conflicts that existed in the midst of all the wealth the Americans obtained. Conflicts other than economic related consisted of racial, social, religious, and political differences. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were a group of people who contributed to the racial, religious, and cultural conflicts by believing as pure Americans, and that they should be the guardians of society’s behavior and morals.
The Klan prided itself on pureblooded Americanism and stressed nationalism and racial purity. Even though the government was against its racial views, the government itself carried out laws that showed racism. An immigration act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants by applying a quota system and it favored immigrants from northern and western Europe. In addition to the quota, the 1924 National Origins Act reduced the number of immigrants and excluded Asians altogether. These laws attempted to maintain its Americanism but American was not as perfect as the government thought.
Literary critics of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance criticized American society of its materialism and racism against African Americans. The culture was heavily criticized because it contained many flaws. Another flaw consisted of the conflict between fundamentalism verses Darwin. The Scopes trial was when John Scopes agreed to go on trial because he taught evolution that denied the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible. Another conflict between sides was the prohibition controversy of rural verses urban. The rural citizens opposed prohibition while the urban citizens supported. Disputes between two different ideas were common and America became a country of arguments and controversy.
Many different conflicts existed in society of the 1920’s that contrasted from the entertainment and prosperity. The 1920’s was a decade of advantages as well as disadvantages. America was an improving as a nation, but halted by its many conflicts. The nation’s fate depends on the prosperity of the people, and if it can resolve their problems of cultural, economic, racial, social, religious and political conflicts, the future may look bright. The entertainment and prosperity changes were new trends that benefited American life, and hopefully changes by settling disputes will benefit American life as well.