Follies, Fad and Cash: The Pre-Depression Years

Posted by on September 21, 2008

Hello everyone!

Wow!  What a week huh?  From an outsider perspective, the stock market’s roller-coaster ride of debt, bail-outs and general upheaval has been quite interesting….that is if I don’t think about my poor retirement funds, which I’m sure are a lot less than the weeks preceding!

I sort of wonder if this is a taste of what it must have been in the fall of 1929?  While we know our current crisis can be attributed to the crash of the housing market, credit crunch and basically a LOT of bad loans, the Great Depression is somewhat harder to pin down as to the exact causes.  Some say it was the tight money that caused it, while others say it was general lack of regulation.  Whatever the case, before we had it, the Twenties can be remembered as the party before the crash.  Let’s take a look!


Following the Great War, America in the 1920’s was a nation on the move.  With profits from the war, a consumer driven economy that was beginning to explode and massive change in culture, change was the order of the day.

Industrialism, which had been gaining steam since the late 1800’s continued to expand, and much like China today, Americans of all types bounded to the cities as fast as they could.  Hand in hand with this newly formed consumer culture, rolled the incentives to BUY, BUY, BUY!   Buoyed by the ez-payment plan, industrialism and the resultant money making opportunities drove manufacturing to new heights.  This is best seen in the automobile.


In his work, Only Yesterday, we read this from Allen:

“…In 1919 there had been 6, 771,000 passenger cars in service in the United States; by 1929 there were no less than 23, 121,000. There you have possibly the most potent statistic of Coolidge Prosperity. As a footnote to it I suggest the following: even as early as the end of 1923 there were two cars for every three families in “Middletown,” a typical American City. The Lynds and their investigators interviewed 123 working-class families of “Middletown” and found that 60 of them had cars. Of these 60, 26 lived in such shabby-looking houses that the investigators thought to ask whether they had bathtubs, and discovered that as many as 21 of the 26 had none. The automobile came even before the tub!….” (3)


Fads also became the order of the day.  Mahjong, marathon dancing and pole-sitting remind us today of the change in American culture.  In contrast to the recovering European continent, in America, times were right and the future was bright!


We have yet to mention Prohibition, the relationship between business and the lack of regulation from the Government and the prime example of the great Florida land boom which more than anything symbolizes these times.  Remember Pan-Am?

We could also add the Scopes Trial and a host of other innovations, changes and discoveries such as the US Mail for example.  For these and more, try the links below for a more complete overview of these times.

Have a great day!


Roaring Twenties (Wikipedia)

Allen, Frederick Lewis (1920’s history)

House of Morgan (Google Books)

Only Yesterday (1920’s history, full-text, Frederick Lewis Allen)

Chicago Transit posters–1920’s

1920’s history (

1920’s slang


(1-2-4) LOC, Prints & Photographs Division

(3) Allen, Frederick Lewis.  Only Yesterday.

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