The Roaring Twenties: Overview, Achievements & Aftermath and Prohibition

The Roaring Twenties: Overview

The research provides a high-level overview of the social, economic and cultural movement during the Roaring Twenties or 20s. The US was a representative nation, which demonstrates a dramatic shift away from traditional culture and moral values. Other countries, such as the UK and Canada, follow a similar situation but to a less extent.

Beginning and Underlying Reasons of Roaring 20s

  • Roaring 20s generally refers to the decade, following World War I (1914-1918), when there was a boom in economic growth and prosperity driven by veterans who returned to work.
  • The dramatic industrial growth brought in consumer culture, the pursuit of affluence, technological innovation, and the objection to the way writers and intellectuals were treated during World War I.
  • Due to these significant social and cultural changes, things that never existed before, such as radio, music recordings, and automobiles, raised people’s happiness and quality of living. One of the triggers of the change is the ban on alcoholic beverages in the US.

Representative People, Countries, and Cities Active in Roaring 20s Culture

  • In the time following World War I, three consecutive US presidents, namely Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, implemented new tax policies to aid domestic producers.
  • The US saw a significant change in arts during the time of the Roaring 20s. For example, Jazz music became widely popular during the 1920s.
  • Harlem Renaissance is the time when African American art and literature flourished, which centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Important people in the Harlem Renaissance are Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes, and Duke Ellington.
  • Flappers associate with young women who have “a short bob hairstyle, cigarette dangling from her painted lips, dancing to a live jazz band.”
  • In the 1920s, Canada started to become more independent from the UK and demanded more autonomy.
  • The economic prosperity and the improved status of women also appeared in the UK. However, married women and their children had a similar life pre- and post-World World I, while family sizes became smaller.

Overview of Morale

  • Loving family and personal satisfaction became the new morality. New elements emerged to define the success of a marriage.
  • The improvement in the US economy and the change in lifestyle and culture have significantly enhanced people’s standard of living and happiness.
  • For example, the US media shifted their focus from wars to entertainment and celebrities; more people moved to live in cities due to urbanization; and people’s total wealth “more than doubled between 1920 and 1929.”
  • In most major countries, for the first time, women had the opportunity to vote. Young women were given more freedom and the opportunity to take on white-collar jobs.
  • Due to the feeling of threat, there was an expansion from the prejudice against Germans and communists to all immigrants in the US, which led to a surge in racism and nativism.
  • Businesses in Canada became optimistic about the future economy during the 1920s.

Key Figures of Roaring 20s

Besides people mentioned in the other parts of the research, a few more prominent people in the space of art and writing are listed below:

  • Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, is a female representative who pursued intellectual freedom.
  • Duke Ellington, an influential Jazz bandleader in the US, who regularly played in Cotton Club during Harlem Renaissance.
  • Rudolph Valentino, a US silent movie star, who was “one of Hollywood‘s first sex symbols.”
  • Emily Carr, a Canadian artist and writer, whose works centered on indigenous people.
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery, a popular Canadian writer; her work “The Anne of Green Gables” is seen as the Canadian classic literature.
  • Some important figures related to wealth, such as JP Morgan Jr and William Rockefeller Jr., are available here.

Quotes or Descriptions from Artists or Writers in the 1920s

  • Well-known writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, who expatriated from the US to France during World Ward I and criticized the rampant materialism and individualism during the 1920s.
  • Kay Gallant was one representative of the great artists in the 1920s, who opposed the pursuit of wealth during the time when Calvin Coolidge was the US president; Kay cast double on the politicians who came into power after World Ward I and wanted to protest.
  • Sinclair Lewis was the first American writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature. In his book “Main Street”, he criticized business owners in small towns for chasing money.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the important writers during the 1920s. In his book “The Great Gatsby”, he uncovers rich American people who rejected traditional beliefs, which is rated as one of the great writing of the 1920s.

Raring Twenties: Achievements

There were several notable achievements during the Roaring Twenties, including the advent of Cinemas, Jazz, and Radio, the Harlem Renaissance, and the mass production of automobiles. On October 29, 1929, also known as Black Tuesday, when stock markets plummeted on Wall Street, the Roaring Twenties screeched to a halt.


  • For a significant percentage of the US population, new mobility possibilities opened up in the 1920s. Formerly a luxury commodity, as car makers started to mass-produce vehicles, cars became affordable to many more buyers. Henry Ford’s Model T Ford, which made car ownership affordable to the average American was the most important invention of this period.
  • Hundreds of car factories existed in the early twentieth century. But for most Americans, they all made goods that were too pricey. Ford’s ingenuity lay in his use of mass manufacturing to produce cars.
  • By perfecting the assembly line, Ford revolutionized industrial work, “which enabled him to lower the price of the Model T from $850 in 1908 to $300 in 1924, making car ownership a real possibility for a large share of the population.”


  • Radios became a popular feature in American homes in the 1920s, after being introduced during World War I. In the course of the decade, hundreds of radio stations sprang up. News, serial stories, and political speeches were produced and transmitted by these stations.
  • The “advertising space was interspersed with entertainment,” just as in print media. “Yet unlike magazines and newspapers,” marketers did not have to rely on active audience involvement: advertisers were able to reach out to everyone beyond the radio’s listening distance. A larger audience, on the other hand, meant that advertisers had to be more conservative and vigilant not to offend anyone.
  • Radio power further accelerated the process of developing a common national culture that had begun when the circulation of newspapers was increased by railroads and telegraphs. Radio was, however, much more powerful than these print media. Radio on the airwaves and in the homes of families across the country produced and pumped out American culture.
  • Listeners around the world were entertained by syndicated radio programs such as Amos’n ‘Andy, which started in the late 1920s. It did so with derogatory racial stereotypes regarding African Americans, similar to those depicted in minstrel shows of the previous century. Through the radio, Americans might listen to precisely the same programming from coast-to-coast. “This had the effect of smoothing out regional differences in dialect, language, music, and even consumer taste.”
  • Radio also changed how sports were enjoyed by Americans. The advent of play-by-play sporting event descriptions “broadcast over the radio” took “sports entertainment right into millions of homes.”


  • In the Roaring Twenties, a decade that witnessed unparalleled economic growth and prosperity in the United States, jazz music became wildly popular. Consumer culture flourished, with growing numbers of Americans “buying cars, electrical appliances,” and other consumer goods that were readily available.
  • Technological innovations such as phonograph enabled musicians to record their compositions. “Whereas previously, music-lovers would actually have to attend a nightclub or concert venue to hear jazz, now they could listen on the radio or even purchase their favorite recordings for at-home listening.”
  • Most Americans found shelter in speakeasies and other entertainment establishments that housed jazz bands after Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1919, which prohibited the manufacturing and selling of alcoholic beverages. One popular venue was Harlem’s Cotton Club, where both whites and blacks met to listen to jazz, dance Charleston, and illegally guzzle booze.

The Harlem Renaissance

  • Famous African American authors such as “Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes” were associated with this movement.
  • In the 1920s, African Americans also dominated the jazz scene. “One of the most influential jazz bandleaders and composers of all time” was Duke Ellington, who regularly played at the Cotton Club.


  • The popularity of movies grew in the early 1920s, and with it came the advent of cinemas. At the time, there was a surge in movie attendees, at the end of the decade attendees had swollen to 90 million.
  • The popularity of silent -movies gave rise to the first movie’s celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin. “In 1927, the world of the silent movie began to wane with the New York release of the first “talkie”—The Jazz Singerm which gave rise to such stars Al Jolson.”
  • Hollywood evolved from a sleeping town in South Califonia to the center of the profitable and innovative US movie industry from the 1910s to 1920s.

Roaring Twenties: Aftermath

The Roaring 20s came to an end with the crash of the stock market in 1929 and the immediate aftermath is known as the Great Depression. People experience job loss, food shortages, and an increase in violence and suicide. More details about the immediate aftermath of the Roaring 20s can be found below.

The End of the Roaring 20s

  • The crash of the US stock market in 1929, which brought on the Great Depression, was the major event that ended the Roaring 20s.
  • The crash, known as Black Thursday, happened on October 24, 1929.
  • Though prohibition is associated with the Roaring 20s, prohibition was not repealed until December 1933.

Food Shortages

  • Right after the 20s ended, Americans experienced food shortages and many participated in hunger marches to demand more government support.
  • The Dust Bowl, which occurred in 1930, played a huge part in the food shortages because farmers had to waste crops.
  • Though there were food shortages, there was also a lot of food waste after the 20s because people could not afford fresh food and some farmers ended up producing too much.


  • 30 million families had lost their main source of income by 1932.
  • Many people who still worked immediately after the Roaring 20s experienced pay cuts and reduced work hours.
  • Several hundred thousand businesses were forced to close during the Great Depression.

Daily Life

  • Divorces and informal divorces, or abandonment, increased immediately after the 20s.
  • Marriage and birth rates fell because people believed they did not have enough financial stability to start or grow a family.
  • It is estimated that the marriage rate declined by 40% when compared to the 1920s.
  • The rate of suicide and domestic violence also increased after the 20s.
  • Cigarettes became very popular in 1930, with sales reaching 124 billion.
  • The number of employed women rose 24% in the 1930s.
  • Because of the number of women applying for jobs immediately after the 20s, 26 states instituted marriage bars that did not allow married women to work.
  • Anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people are estimated to have died due to complications from the Dust Bowl of 1930.

Prohibition: Overview

Prohibition was the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 which banned the production, sale, or distribution of alcohol. It was repealed through the 21st Amendment in 1933 to allow for revenue tax on alcohol to be used to fund economic recovery efforts after the Great Depression.

Enactment of Prohibition

Prohibition was the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution which introduced a ban on the production, sale, or distribution of alcoholic beverages as well as their exportation and importation across the then 48 states of the US.Prohibition came into effect as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution on January 16, 1920, after the passing of the amendment by 36 states in January 1919.The Volstead Act was passed by Congress months later to outline the application and enforcement of the new amendment.Prohibition banned the “manufacture, transportation, sale, importation, and exportation of intoxicating beverages“, but did not define the term, “intoxicating”. The Volstead Act defined “intoxicating” as “containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume”, thereby forbidding virtually all alcoholic beverages.

Key Factors That Led to Prohibition

  • The history of Prohibition dates back to the 19th century when social and religious organizations, like the American Temperance Society, campaigned against drunkenness and the “scourge of alcohol”.
  • Activists argued that alcohol promoted domestic violence as husbands who got drunk would physically assault their wives and children. They also claimed that alcohol abuse led to poverty.
  • A major campaign was launched in the 1870s by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in support of the Prohibition Party, which was established in 1869, to ban alcohol.
  • The advocates for a “dry” America continued their campaign into the 1910s. An opportunity came during World War I when Congress passed a ban on alcohol throughout the period of the war.
  • The pressure for a prohibition amendment continued to mount on Congress until legislation was passed by both houses. It was ratified in January 1919 after passage by three-fourths of the states in the US. In January 1920, it went into effect.

Impact on US Morale

  • Brewers were not alone in their shock at the strictness of the Prohibition regime. Voters who did not have drinking problems, but were in support of Prohibition to effect discipline on others, were also surprised.
  • People were shocked when they realized that National Prohibition was much more severe in the banning of personal consumption of alcohol than most state and local prohibition laws.
  • However, many people chose to obey Prohibition once it became law. Referendum results shortly after the ban revealed widespread support, and cases brought against the new law were quickly fended off by the Supreme Court.
  • Death rates from “cirrhosis and alcoholism, alcoholic psychosis hospital admissions, and drunkenness arrests all fell sharply during the latter years of the 1910s when both the cultural and the legal climate were increasingly inhospitable to drink, and in the early years after National Prohibition went into effect”.

Impact on the US’ Recovery from the Spanish Flu

  • There is no evidence that Prohibition had any impact on the US’ recovery from the Spanish flu. Doctors were divided in their opinions regarding the therapeutic effects of alcohol and its efficacy in curing the flu.
  • In 1916, the highly respected United States Pharmacopeia, which published prescription standards for over-the-counter drugs, dropped whiskey, wine, and brandy from its listings.
  • The House of Delegates of the American Medical Association (AMA) supported Prohibition in 1917, stating, despite objections by some delegates, that “the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be discouraged.”
  • However, when the AMA conducted a survey on the issue in 1922, 51% of physicians said they believe that whiskey is a “necessary therapeutic agent.”

Impact on the Amount of Alcohol Americans Consumed

  • Between 1900 and 1915, five years before Prohibition came into effect, the “average adult drank about 2.5 gallons of pure alcohol a year, which is about 13 standard drinks per week”.
  • Consumption of alcohol dropped significantly by 1916, with the falling to an average of “two gallons a year, or 10 drinks a week”.
  • Research suggested that alcohol consumption fell sharply in 1920 to around one-third of what consumers drank before Prohibition.
  • During the Prohibition Era, drinking habits in the US experienced a drastic change and the flattening effect of Prohibition on per capita consumption remained long after the repeal.
  • After Repeal, the annual consumption of alcohol per capita was “1.2 US gallons (4.5 liters), less than half the level of the pre-Prohibition period”.

Repeal of Prohibition

  • Support for Prohibition declined during the presidential election in 1932 as Franklin D. Roosevelt achieved a landslide victory, defeating president Herbert Hoover.
  • Prohibition was repealed through the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution. Both houses of Congress passed the Amendment in February 1933 and it was ratified by the states in December 1933.
  • The economic challenges that resulted from the Great Depression was a catalyst in repealing Prohibition as revenue from tax on alcohol helped in dealing with the challenges.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.


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