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Social Developments In The 1920s

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At the turn of the century, life drastically changed for Americans, especially in the 1920's where new social developments extremely affected their lives. During this time period, America transformed into a consumer society that contrasted with the production of primary industrial goods and an ethic of scarcity, restraint, sacrifice, and frugality of the 19th century. The 20th century was now known for leisure, relative affluence, and an emphasis on consumer goods and personal satisfaction. Things like amusement parks and professional sports became very popular and middle-class people could now enjoy items like interior decoration and indoor plumbing. The advertising business was booming and began the process of wants and consumption. Other innovations and ways of life were also developed in this time which changed American lives forever.

After World War I ended, trends started to move faster and faster and the war made the United States a world power. Higher wages, lower prices, installment buying, and new technological advances helped spread the delight of our consumption. This made new products like electric irons, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners more common for every family to own. Americans also spent more money on leisure and by 1928, one-fourth of the national income went to leisure items. One observer was able to capture this newborn emphasis on leisure by saying: "To call this a land of labor is to impute last century's epithet to it, for now it is a land of leisure." (Dumenil, Lynn, p. 176)

In 1907, Henry Ford and his Ford Motor Company decided to build the Model T. It came out in 1908, was priced $850, and came in one color - black. As years went on, prices dropped and sales increased which made the company the world's largest automobile manufacturer. Ford wanted to build his cars more efficiently instead of one at a time so he used Eli Whitney's idea of interchangeable parts and ideas from Chicago's great meat-packing houses for the use of the assembly lines in his factories. The automobile quickly became one of the most crucial "inventions of re-making leisure." More people were able to take advantage of the cheaper, mass produced cars and the amount of cars sold showed it. In 1900, 800 cars were produced, in 1912, over one million, and by 1929 over 27 million cars were on the highway.

The automobile industry was very crucial to the economy. Not only was it a major industry and employer, it supported many other industries like component parts, steel, rubber, and road building. It also helped the construction industry because they were needed to change the American landscape in that the roads were built for these cars to travel. These roads made places like Los Angeles possible. This also caused the exploration of oil and led to new corporations like Texaco and Gulf Oil. Domestic oil production grew by 250% in the 1920s and oil imports rose as well. The automobile minimized regional differences among Americans and also changed the leisure patterns. More people took drives to the country and went on vacations. The car industry also developed new ways to sell and distribute products. Customers were now using a new type a credit, the installment plan, and companies were able to sell cars through networks of dealers too. This plan included the customer paying a down payment, or initial payment, then paying the remaining balance in a series of payments. The automobile changed American lives in that it gave the people a strong sense of power and freedom. They felt power because they were now able to own such a luxury as a car. They also had freedom to go wherever they pleased.

During this time, movies were around but were still without sound. Ideas that led to the addition of sound in a film came from research by American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Neither of these companies could nor would enter into filmmaking but were willing to contract their equipment to Paramount or other large Hollywood studios because they didn't want to risk their sizable profit positions. Warner Brothers then took the necessary equipment from AT&T in the spring of 1925 and on August 6, 1926, they premiered its new "Vitaphone" technology.

In the early years of the century, movies only applied to the working class audiences. But after 1910, they targeted the middle-class by opening theaters in more "respectable" districts and producers made their films more interesting by adding a plot which attracted a wider audience. By 1920, movies were played in motion picture "palaces", which were exotic buildings with uniformed ushers. These came to be part of the assumption that films were a "democracy of consumption", or that these so called palaces could be enjoyed by all classes equally. Movies also carried a message and showcased consumer goods like clothing and plots sometimes containing themes relating to American consumer culture.

Films also projected a new view of womanhood. A few rising female stars of the 20s included: Madge Bellamy, Clara Bow, and Joan Crawford, which represented the modern woman. However, these ladies did not use their bodies to attract the opposite sex in films but their clothes, cosmetics, and jewelry that were on them. Many movies used the "makeover" plot which was when an ordinary, boring woman would trade in her old-fashioned clothes for flapper attire to regain her husband. The aim through most films was marriage and the maintenance of it. They were also tended to tame sexuality and stop it from changing the overall social life of Americans. As well as the automobile, movies transformed the leisure patterns of Americans in that movie going became a part of their daily lives.

The radio was another important invention of the 1920s. Guglielmo Marconi started the progress of this invention in 1901 and on December 12th the first signals were sent across the Atlantic Ocean; starting in Cornwall to St. John's, Newfoundland, where Marconi was based. The first experimental radio station sent out a few broadcasts in 1906 from Massachusetts but regular broadcasting did not begin until 1920 in Detroit, Michigan.

At first, the radio was a hands-on form of entertainment. You often had to construct your own equipment and try to pick up distant signals from radio stations. It didn't change into a more modern form until in the mid 1920s and the National Broadcasting System, the first national network, emerged in 1926. The Radio Act of 1927 was then passed to regulate rather chaotic stations that were conducive to both national network and commercial radio. This made radio programs and people like Jack Benny and Amos and Andy nationally known by the 1930s. The radio was the national medium



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