How Did WW1 Change American Society? Essay

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After World War I the Americans became tired of war and responsibilities. They wanted to return to a normal way of life. This made the Americans suspicious of foreigners and people who have views that were different than the average American’s. Some Americans were especially afraid of the Russian Revolution. In 1917 a Communist state was set up in Russia by the Bolsheviks. They attempted to convince workers across the globe to overthrow capitalism. Many American citizens were afraid that “bolshevism” was a threat to the American society. Increasing the fear of the Americans were the anarchists, people who thought that there should be no government. Anarchists bombed many cities in 1919, frightening the American citizens.

The fear led to the Red Scare, which was a period when the government went after the Communists, also known as the “Reds”, and other people with radical views. In late 1919 and early 1920, 10,000 people were ordered to be arrested due to being suspected of being Communists and anarchists. Raids were also staged on “suspicious” groups. The U.S. government deported hundreds of the aliens it arrested, but they quickly released many others due to a lack of evidence.

After WWI many industrial workers began strikes in an attempt to get their wages increased. These strikes would keep rapidly increasing prices. Many citizens believed that labor unrest was caused by the radicals and Bolsheviks. Racial tension increased at the same time. Some white people resented African American competition for factory jobs in the north. About 350,000 steelworkers went on strike in September 1919, demanding higher wages and an 8-hour work day. The companies accused the strikers of being “Red agitators” which cost the strikers public support and forced the strike to end.

During the same month police officers from Boston went on strike for the right to form a union. When the strike collapsed in the end, the entire police force was fired. Some workers chose not to join labor union, linking the unions with radicalism. A sharp drop in union membership happened in the 1920s. Despite the unions’ decline, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was created. This union of railroad workers gew in the 1930s, when the government began encouraging unions.

President Calvin Coolidge, his administration, and the Republican congress all held that support of business would aid prosperity. The U.S. government cut spending and lowered the income tax on wealthy Americans and corporations. They also raised tariffs to protect business and overturned laws regulating child labor and women’s wages. President Calvin Coolidge favored a limited role for the U.S. in world affairs. He wanted world peace, but he didn’t want the U.S. to join the League of Nations or join foreign alliances. Many Americans supported this policy of isolationism.

A recession lingers after WWI. The economy the n began a steady growth that lasted a decade. In 1922 the U. S’s gross national product was $70 billion. By 1929 it rose to $100 billion. New technology stimulated rapid industrial growth, and electricity powered the American industry. Before WWI only 30 percent of the U.S. factories were run by electricity but by 1929, the number rose to 70 percent. By decreasing the cost of production, businesses could decrease the cost of products, increasing profits overall.

New ways of managing businesses helped the economy grow. Employers used scientific management to adopt more efficient work methods. The new methods lowered costs and increased productivity. Businesses began adopting mass-production techniques. This further increased productivity and cut production costs. Businesses also began trying to better their relationships with workers. They set up safety programs, and some even provided health and accident insurance. Others encouraged their workers to buy stock in the company. These steps, known as welfare capitalism, attempted to link workers more closely to the company they worked for. Businesses also adopted these steps to keep workers from joining independent unions.

By the twenties more than 60 percent of American houses had electricity. Companies produced electrical appliances, and the consumers acquired them. Using these appliances meant less time on household chores. Businesses began spending more money on advertising to persuade consumers to buy a product. Newspapers and magazines were filled with ads, and with the spread of the radio, a new advertising, the commercial announcement, was born. Consumers found a new way of paying called installment buying, where the consumer would promise to pay small, regular amounts over time.

During the twenties the car became a part of every Americans daily life. The U.S. economy also revolved around the automobile. About 4 million Americans began working for auto companies or related jobs. In 1914 Ford announced that he would pay workers the high wage of $5 per day. By the mid-twenties other car making companies such as General Motors began cutting into Ford’s sales by offering cars with various improvements.

American citizen's love for driving cars called for new highways and roads. With the highways came gas stations and rest stops. The businesses along highways profited due to the American’s new love for cross-country travel. The car boom also affected companies that made products used in cars. An example of this would be that steel, rubber, and glass industries grew. Cars also contributed to the spread of suburbs. Now that people could drive to work, they could live in suburbs and still go to work in the cities.

Despite this prosperity, there were still many Americans that were not a part of this boom in the twenties. Farmers made of for a large portion of this group. During the war, the government had to buy wheat, corn, and other products from farmers, which helped the farmers. But, after the war farmers were forced to compete with European agriculture once again. The prices of food fell, and farm income dropped. Many farmers lost their farms due to being unable to pay their debts.

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Railroad workers and coal miners also struggled as trucks took business from railroads and electricity replaced coal as a power source. Americans also bought less cotton now and more clothes were made of synthetic fibers. This forced many textile factories to shut down. Workers’ wages raised slightly, but the cost of iving rose even more. By 1929 nearly three fourths of families had incomes of below $2,500, the accepted level needed for a comfortable living.

The twenties also brought many changes for women. One large change was the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, allowing women in all states to vote. Women also now ran for election to political offices. The number of women working outside the house steadily grew. Most working women worked as teachers or office workers, but some that were college-educated began professional careers. Still most married women remained to work in the home. The symbol for the new “liberated” woman of the twenties was the flapper, a carefree young woman with short “bobbed” hair, heavy makeup, and short skirts. Many people saw the behavior of flappers as a sign of the morals changing and new freedoms.

Cultural changes spread quickly due to the new growth of mass media. Laborsaving devices and fewer working hours gave citizens more leisure time to enjoy newspapers, magazines, phonograph records, the radio, and the movies. In the twenties the motion picture industry in Hollywood became a major business. The movies offered an escape and entertainment to many Americans. At first, the movies were silent, and only black and white, with actors’ dialog printed on the screen. In 1927 Hollywood introduced movies with sound. The first “talkie” The Jazz Singer, created a sensation.

The radio brought the new entertainment into people's homes in the 1920’s. Radio networks broadcast popular programs that included news, concerts, sports, and comedies. Businesses realized that the radio offered a huge audience for messages about their products to be heard, so many businesses began to help finance radio programs. Radio stations sold spot advertisements, or commercials, to companies.

The invention of the radio also added to the popularity of sports such as baseball, football, and boxing, by allowing listeners to experience sporting events at home as they are happening. American citizens flocked to sporting events, and sporting stars became heroes. Americans also took up new activities with enthusiasm, which eventually turned into fads. Board games and crossword puzzles became a big deal. Contests like flagpole sitting and dance marathons made headlines.

During the twenties people began dancing to a new type of music called jazz. Jazz capture the spirit of the era so well that the 1920’s are often referred to as the Jazz Age. Jazz uses dynamic rhythms and improvisation. Famous jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith emerged. Jazz inspired a blossoming culture in Harlem, an African American section of New York City. During a movement called the Harlem Renaissance, writers presented the African American experience in novels, poems, and stories.

While the Harlem Renaissance thrived, other writers questioned American ideals. Some influential writers chose to live in other countries due to this. Other writers remained in the U.S. and wrote about life in America.

Disagreement began to arise between those who defended traditional beliefs and those who welcomed new beliefs. One issue that divided America was the use of alcohol. The temperance movement was rooted in religious objections to drinking, and in belief that society would gain of alcohol was not available. The movement achieved its goal in 1919 with the ratification of the 18th amendment. This amendment established Prohibition, which banned liquor in all the United States. In the rural South and Midwest Prohibition generally succeeded. However, in the big cities Prohibition did not get much support.

A continuing demand for alcohol led to lawbreaking. Illegal bars and clubs, known as speakeasies, sprang up in cities. The government could do little to enforce prohibition. By the early twenties, many states in the East quit trying to enforce the laws. Prohibition contributed to the rise of organized crimes. Powerful gangsters made millions of dollars by bootlegging. They used their profits to influence businesses, labor unions, and governments. Over time most of America realized that Prohibition had failed. It was repealed in 1933 with the 21st amendment.

Many native-born Americans were afraid of the rapid changes in society. Their concerns led to an upsurge of nativism. With this came the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK preyed on African Americans, but also targeted Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and other groups they believed to represent “un-American” values. Klan members used scare tactics, whipped or lynched people, and burned property to get their way. The Klan spread from the South to other areas in the country in the twenties.

Nativism also arose because some Americans believed that foreigners would take their jobs. In 1921 Congress responded to these Nativist fears by passing the Emergency Quota Act, which established a quota system, an arrangement that placed a limit on the number of immigrants from each country. The policy favored immigrations from northern and western Europe. Congress revised the law in 1924. The National Origins Act reduced the annual country quota and based it on the census of 1890. The law also completely excluded the Japanese immigrants completely. An earlier law already excluded the Chinese. The quotas did not apply to country in the Western Hemisphere. As a result, immigration from Mexico and Canada increased.

Another cultural clash in the twenties involved the role of religion in society. This conflict gained national attention in 1925 in one of the most famous trials of the era. In 1925 Tennessee passed a law making it illegal to teach evolution. The law was supported by Christians who accepted the biblical story of creation. A teacher named John Scopes deliberately broke the law so that a trial could test it’s legality. Two famous lawyers took the opposing sides in the trial. Although Scopes was convicted if breaking the law and fined $100, the Christians lost the larger battle. The defense made it appear that the offense wanted to impose their religious beliefs on the entire nation. The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned Scopes’s conviction.

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