The Roaring Twenties is traditionally viewed as an era of great economic prosperity driven by the introduction of a wide array of new consumer goods. The North American economy, particularly the economy of the US, transitioned from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy; the economy subsequently boomed. The United States augmented its standing as the richest country in the world, its industry aligned to mass production and its society acculturated into consumerism. In Europe, the economy did not start to flourish until 1924.
In spite of the social, economic and technological advances, African Americans, recent immigrants and farmers—along with a large part of the working class population—were not much affected by this period. In fact, millions of people lived below the poverty line of US $2,000 per year per family. The Great Depression demarcates the conceptualization of the Roaring Twenties from the 1930s. The hopefulness in the wake of World War I that had initiated the Roaring Twenties gave way to the debilitating economic hardship of the later era.
At the end of World War I, soldiers returned to the United States and Canada with money in their pockets and many new products on the market on which to spend it. At first, the recession of wartime production caused a brief but deep recession, known as the Post-WWI recession. Quickly, however, the U.S. and Canadian economies rebounded as returning soldiers re-entered the labor force and factories were retooled to produce consumer goods.
Urbanization reached a climax in the 1920s. For the first time, more Americans and Canadians lived in cities of 2500 or more people than in small towns or rural areas. However the nation was fascinated with its great metropolitan centers that contained about 15% of the population. New York and Chicago vied in building skyscrapers, and New York pulled ahead with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. The finance and insurance industries doubled and tripled in size. The basic pattern of the modern white collar job was set during the late 19th century, but it now became the norm for life in large and medium cities. Typewriters, filing cabinets and telephones brought unmarried women into clerical jobs. In Canada, one in five workers were women by the end of the decade. The fastest growing cities were those in the Midwest and the Great Lakes region, including Chicago and Toronto. These cities prospered because of their vast agricultural hinterlands. Cities on the West Coast received increasing benefits from the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal.
On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the last of 36 states needed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Equality at the polls marked a pivotal moment in the women's rights movement.
Art Deco was the style of design and architecture that marked the era. Originating in Belgium, it spread to the rest of western Europe and North America towards the mid-1920s. In the U.S., one of the most remarkable buildings featuring this style was constructed as the tallest building of the time: the Chrysler Building. The forms of art deco were pure and geometric, even though the artists often drew inspiration from nature. In the beginning, lines were curved, though rectilinear designs would later become more and more popular. The first commercial radio station in the United States, KDKA, began broadcasting in Pittsburgh in 1922. Radio stations subsequently proliferated at a remarkable rate, and with them spread the popularity of jazz. Jazz became associated with all things modern, sophisticated, and also decadent. Men tended to sing in a high pitched voice, typified by Harold Scrappy Lambert, one of the popular recording artists of the decade.
The music that people consider today as "jazz" tended to be played by minorities. In the 1920s, the majority of people listened to what we would call today "sweet music", with hardcore jazz categorized as "hot music"...
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