An Informal History of the 1920s
By: Frederick Lewis Allen
The book Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen recounts all the events leading up to the stock market crash in 1929, beginning with the end of World War I in 1918. The story, told chronologically, contrasts the changing social and political views of the American people throughout the “Roaring Twenties,” as the time period came to be known. Allen makes history enjoyable, vividly describing the creases in Al Capon’s shirt and the painted faces of the young generation.
By 1919, World War I was over, and the Kaiser of Germany (Hitler) had been successfully overthrown with the help of the United States. The jubilant New Yorkers stormed the streets, celebrating. During the early 1920s, citizens had much to celebrate, including the soaring stock market prices and increased industry. Wartime attitude became prevalent: an attitude of invincibility. The president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, was seen as too passive, and since the country’s inhabitants were overly-confident, they began to criticize his leadership abilities. At this time, the prohibition movement was at full strength. The Wartime Prohibition Act became permanent with the 18th amendment, making it illegal to consume or obtain any alcohol. It is a common misconception that this act led to misery; On the contrary, much of the United States population supported the law as a protective measure meant to insure productivity and responsibility for future generations.
Migration toward cities began to ensue, populating suburbs. Farming began to “go out of style,” with rumors of the success of stock-brokers and business moguls such Henry Ford. During the 1920s, wages were very high, much to the annoyance of employers (usually wealthy white men). Labor specialization and unique skills led to the emergence of labor unions, consequently resulting in strikes and inflated pay rates. In the...