World War 1 was global and one of the deadliest conflicts in history which had permanent major impacts on the participant countries. United States did not join the war for a while by following a neutral strategy. However, in 1917 they entered the war with Allied Powers. Despite winning the war, Allied Powers had a downfall in many ways whereas the United States was not much affected by the war comparing to allies[footnoteRef:1]. The Great War had major impacts on American society and economy despite being the last country to enter the war. Economically, U.S grew larger due to many factors such as isolationism, high manufacturing but most importantly by loaning to European allies because they were devastated due to the war. On the social side, there were both positive and negative developments, while “The Roaring Twenties” addresses the positive developments most importantly in women, whereas reemergence of Ku Klux Klan caused discrimination in American society. [1: Michelle Getchell, “The United States in World War 1”.2015, Khan Academy]
The American economy developed both by increasing production, lending to allies and by following “Isolationism”. War completely changed economic balances of the world. Once a wealthy Europe was now made up of debtor nations. During the war, The United States has provided Allies many important goods such as rifles, gunpowder and high explosives in exchange for credits[footnoteRef:2]. US was an indebted state for so many years yet became a creditor even before entering the war. Thus, American economy made significant profit from the war whereas European economies suffered a critical tumble. This decline of Europe caused world economics to turn towards America, London was no more the center of the world capital market, it was replaced by New York[footnoteRef:3]. The American economy has undergone a tremendous positive change with the development of technology and services[footnoteRef:4]. In 1918-1920 US GDP (nominal) grew from approximately 70 billion dollars to 90 billion dollars. It is known as US economy grew almost 40 percent in post war era[footnoteRef:5]. Another important factor was Isolationism, which can be expressed as “the political principle or practice of showing interest only in your own country and not being involved in international activities” [footnoteRef:6]. In Norwich University’s source, it is argued that American isolationism lasted until WW 2 and benefitted the nation with re-building a stronger domestic economy by protecting American manufacturers with imposing tariffs on imported goods[footnoteRef:7]. Yet isolationism later on created some clash of ideas in terms of formation of “League of Nations”. It is believed by many historians that isolationism policy and inability of US to lead “League of Nations” caused World War 2 [footnoteRef:8]. Another important strategy applied during this economic growth was, increasing the manufacture. US had already increased manufacturing before the war through exporting weapons to Europe, total export value grew from $2.4 billion to $6.2 billion in 4 years [footnoteRef:9]. Moving assembly line was a huge step in terms of increasing productivity. Greatest manufacturing added value was on automobile sector, with the moving assembly line of Henry Ford, automobile prices dropped. Average cost of a car was 300 dollars hence half of the American families owned cars in 1920s[footnoteRef:10]. Products entering the average American homes were not only driven by cars but also dishwashers, radios and sewing machines became accessible[footnoteRef:11]. As Rubio and Conesa state, “By 1928, sales of vacuum cleaners, irons, refrigerators, and washing machines had risen phenomenally”[footnoteRef:12]. Although these companies helped nation’s economic growth, later on state went into an economic crisis called “The Great Depression” in 1929 due to the fluctuations in the stock market through these companies’ stocks[footnoteRef:13]. The post-war American economy has made progress until the Great Depression, and thanks to this progress, purchasing power and welfare of society was increased. Meanwhile, this economic growth also caused many changes which is mostly positive, with a few negative aspects in the social life of Americans. [2: Heather Michon, “How the War Changed the Economy for Good.” 2019, ThoughtCo] [3: Hugh Rockoff, “U.S. Economy in World War 1.” 2008, EHnet] [4: Gene Smiley, “The U.S. Economy in the 1920s.” 2004, EHnet] [5: “US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) History”. Chart from usgovernmentspending.com ] [6: Meaning of “Isolationism” in English from Cambridge Online Dictionary ] [7: “Isolationism and U.S. Foreign Policy After World War I” 2017, Norwich University Online] [8: Ibid] [9: Heather Michon, “How the War Changed the Economy for Good.” 2019, ThoughtCo] [10: Gene Smiley, “The U.S. Economy in the 1920s.” 2004, EHnet] [11: Ibid ] [12: Antonio Daniel Juan Rubio, Isabel María García Conesa, “The Role of Women in the Roaring Twenties” 2012, Centro Universitario de la Defensa San Javier] [13: Gene Smiley, “The U.S. Economy in the 1920s.” 2004, EHnet]
This economical leap paved path to ‘The Roaring Twenties’, known as the socially golden age of America, while at the same time, the reemergence of Ku Klux Klan had corrosive effects on society. Spirit of Roaring Twenties was expressed with a common sense of novelty about modernity and the disintegration of the old tradition. Everything seemed accessible with modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, household appliances have brought ‘modernity’ to a large scale of Americans. At the same time, jazz music, dancing, drinking, and smoking, which all can be referred as party culture, gained popularity, unlike the post-World War I mood[footnoteRef:14]. Therefore, this period is called “The Roaring Twenties” or “The Jazz Age”. During this era, most significant development was on women’s place and importance in society, due to men leaving their jobs to fight on front, women took the lead and started working in industry. According to Dumenil, women started working in various positions both during and after The Great War for instance; elevator operators, subway conductors, bell ‘boys’ chauffeurs, etc.[footnoteRef:15]. Due to lack of men and muscle power in industry, about 1 million women had to replace men’s positions to keep the nation on track[footnoteRef:16]. War eventually created a new women model called ‘Flapper’ which can be described as more masculine spirited, reckless and non-traditional. The photograph from Corbis Historical represents the new women figure, the “flapper”. These non-traditional women are dressed and acted in a different way, as we can see there are four women drinking alcohol which represents the free, modern women of 1920s[footnoteRef:17]. As Rubio and Conesa state, women were exhausted from dealing with work and husbands who returned from war, they rebelled to authority and wanted to break free. Authors put forward that; “To her elders, the flapper was shocking because of her poise, boldness, and freedom in dress and manners”[footnoteRef:18]. This clearly shows how flappers were different from their previous generation. Another important step taken for women was the 19th amendment which provided suffrage to women. According to Rubio and Conesa, after many years of campaigning, women earned their rights to vote and this also was a significant contribution to creation of the new powerful women silhouette [footnoteRef:19]. While these engaging developments and changes took place, there were also racist and societal divisive actions, which were led by “Ku Klux Klan” (KKK). This organization was founded back in 19th century however their actual active years started with reemergence at 1920s. In the second resurrection of the Klan, which at the beginning targeted only black people, it expanded the message of hate including Catholics, Jews and immigrants[footnoteRef:20]. Members of Klan were so diverse, there were both low and high paid people; laborers, doctors, engineers etc. Main idea was to create a better America. However, their resurrection only damaged the nation. According to Getchell, “They saw themselves as vigilantes restoring justice, and they used intimidation, threats of violence, and actual violence to prevent African Americans, immigrants, Catholics, Jews, liberals, and progressives from attaining wealth, social status, and political power. They burned crosses, led beatings, committed assassinations, lynchings, and much more”[footnoteRef:21]. Reemergence did not last so long, from millions of members in 1920s, a decade later the number of members decreased to 350.000, today there are estimated 5000-8000 Klan members in The United States, so Klan’s effects have decreased compared to the past[footnoteRef:22]. [14: Antonio Daniel Juan Rubio, Isabel María García Conesa, “The Role of Women in the Roaring Twenties” 2012, Centro Universitario de la Defensa San Javier ] [15: Lynn Dumenil, “The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I” 2017, University of North Carolina Press] [16: Heather Michon, “How the War Changed the Economy for Good.” 2019, ThoughtCo] [17: Kirn Vintage Stock. “Four women line up along a wall and chug bottles of liquor in the 1920s. Flapper women drink in unison, CA. “1925. Corbis Historical via Getty Images ] [18: Antonio Daniel Juan Rubio, Isabel María García Conesa, “The Role of Women in the Roaring Twenties” 2012, Centro Universitario de la Defensa San Javier] [19: Ibid] [20: Michelle Getchell, “The Reemergence of the KKK,” 2016, Khan Academy] [21: Ibid] [22: “Ku Klux Klan; A History of Racism and Violence” 2011, The Southern Poverty Law Center ]
To conclude, America was a country that has just exit the war, nevertheless, nation’s economy and society have recovered very quickly, turned war into an advantage, and has advanced to a much higher position than many of its allies in the post war era. Modifications and improvements of US economy and society during this era should not be understated. American economy improved by both increase in manufacturing, loaning to war allies, and following isolationist policies. It can be clearly seen that this economic boom also paved path to America’s socially golden age with a few unfortunate negative events, “Roaring Twenties” and reemergence of Ku Klux Klan. This period of time was generally positive and constructive, especially in terms of women’s power in society but at the same time disruptive due to hazardous actions of KKK. World War 1 was one of the milestones that brought United States to the present and heavily influenced.
- Cambridge Dictionary, “ISOLATIONISM: Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” 2019. Cambridge University Press https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolationism
- Dumenil, Lynn. “The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I” 2017. University of North Carolina Press
- Getchell, Michelle. “The United States in World War 1”, 2015. Khan Academy
- Getchell, Michelle. “The Reemergence of the KKK,”, 2016. Khan Academy
- “Isolationism and U.S. Foreign Policy After World War I”. November 6, 2017. On Norwich University Online https://online.norwich.edu/academic-programs/resources/isolationism-and-us-foreign-policy-after-world-war-i
- Kirn Vintage Stock. “Four women line up along a wall and chug bottles of liquor in the 1920s. Flapper women drink in unison, CA.” 1925. Corbis Historical via Getty Images
- “Ku Klux Klan; A History of Racism and Violence” 2011. The Southern Poverty Law Center https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/Ku-Klux-Klan-A-History-of-Racism.pdf
- Michon, Heather. “How the War Changed the Economy for Good.”. August 19, 2019. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/world-war-i-economy-4157436.
- Rockoff, Hugh. “U.S. Economy in World War 1.” February 10, 2008. EHnet.
- Rubio, Antonio Daniel Juan and Conesa, Isabel María García. “The Role of Women in the Roaring Twenties” 2012. Centro Universitario de la Defensa San Javier.
- Smiley, Gene. “The U.S. Economy in the 1920s.” June 29, 2004. EHnet. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-u-s-economy-in-the-1920s/.
- “US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) History”. Chart from usgovernmentspending.com https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spending_chart_1910_1930USb_20s2li011mcn__US_Gross_Domestic_Product_GDP_History