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...
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