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Looking Back on the 1920s
Mark Twain supposedly said, "History may not repeat, but it certainly
This series will look back on the years 1920 to 1929. You may find
you already know the tune.
The 1920’s: The Failure of
Leadership? Or the
of the Businessman?
History calls it
‘Roaring 20s.’ Music swinging, people dancing, and booze flowing in the
speakeasy. Beautiful young women dancing the night away, dressed to the
nines. Gangsters and gun molls, dandies and dilatants, prohibition be
That might be true in the
large cities, but the 1920s looks far different
across most of the USA.
With the end of the Great
War American farmers experienced a rapid change
of prospects. The boom years of selling
everything you could grow suddenly bottomed out,
and those that had overextended themselves
buying land or machinery to grow more found it
tough to pay the loans. As the decade continued,
things only got worse for the American farmer,
and they entered the great depression almost a
decade before the rest of the American public.
The New Normal?
Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover defined
the 1920s. Harding as a hands off business booster; Coolidge as a quiet
man who feels he is only needed if things go awry; and Hoover as the 'can
do' executive with the instincts of an efficiency expert, the model of the
As we explore this moment between the wars, we will
spend some time with each of these presidents, to examine their strengths
and weaknesses, and see how their personalities and their choices would
impact America’s future.
Looking Back, Moving Forward? - Immigration, Racism, and Rise of Statues
also see the changes in communications with the rise of commercial
radio. Radio networks and syndicated newspapers will create a similarity to
the news stories in all regions of the country. Advertising, and low monthly
payments for goods created by the new innovative appliances will change the
home. Magazines targeted at specific markets will shape opinions, and and in expectations. Much of the
story of the 1920s is the rise of consumerism and marketing, and how the
new magazines as opinion makers will join with the networks and the
syndicates to mold the
future many of us will recognize. Part of that is the wisdom of the
technician known as 'the Chief.' Herbert Hoover masterminded the creation of
the regulations that would rule over the air radio for many years. He knew
if the industry were left to change, the service would be poor, rural
regions would be underserved, and the radio frequencies would step on each
other in an effort to saturate the major markets. He refused to let that
happen, and the FCC would be the result.
Lawlessness - Not Just in the Streets
Beyond prohibition and the Jazz Age, the best known moment of the 1920s
is the Teapot Dome Scandal - yet today little more than the name is actually
known. In these sessions we will see it is more than a scandal. It was a morality play pitting
big business and greed against the concept of limited government. The
difference is, the morality was not the winner. The
Founding Fathers could never have conceived of the wealth generated by
the Oil Barons, but just as Main Street businesses believed anything
that resulted in a profit for them must be good, Big Oil saw ‘investing’
in politicians to be just another business expense. While the actual
crimes are conducted in plain sight, it will
take years before the details reveal the
corruption started at the top, inside the
1928-1929: The New Prosperity, and the Big Crash!
Politicians like Harding
and others reflected the sincere belief that regulations
in business were bad. Their view is Populist driven regulations of the
Wilson era undermined
business, and worked to sweep them away. The 1920s
show that unbridled business can make a lot of
money quickly - for the owners. But those same
lack of regulations will hurt consumers, and eventually owners, as the
eventual loss of customers to shoddy work, and the loss of experienced
workers would drop profits, and the lower costs eventually could not make up
Beyond that is the continually overlooked lesson that booms based on a lack of business
regulations, rather than business innovation,
result in an eventual bust. Equally
unsustainable is when the boom is strictly in the stock market, not on real
value of the business whose stock is being traded. That is simply
speculation, and that bubble will always burst. With no regulation on banks
or on lenders or on stockbrokers, playing the market on credit for
individuals, or on the margin for big speculators would result in widespread
hardships for all. The failure of the stock market would eventually shut
down businesses; banks would lose depositors as businesses closed and laid
off workers, and as banks failed, healthier business could not meet
expenses. Within a year, the engine of American business froze.
learned would last for almost 70 years before
market purists demanding 'free markets' gained a credible following.