by Joshua Zeitz

The 1920s heralded a dramatic break between America’s past and future. Before World War I the country remained culturally and psychologically rooted in the nineteenth century, but in the 1920s America seemed to break its wistful attachments to the recent past and usher in a more modern era. The most vivid impressions of that era are flappers and dance halls, movie palaces and radio empires, and Prohibition and speakeasies. Scientists shattered the boundaries of space and time, aviators made men fly, and women went to work. The country was confident—and rich. But the 1920s were an age of extreme contradiction. The unmatched prosperity and cultural advancement was accompanied by intense social unrest and reaction. The same decade that bore witness to urbanism and modernism also introduced the Ku Klux Klan, Prohibition, nativism, and religious fundamentalism. America stood at a crossroads between innovation and tradition. Many Americans were looking boldly ahead, but just as many were gazing backward, to cherished memories of a fabled national innocence.More »

Featured Primary Sources

Gutzon Borglum,  National Monument Mount Rushmore Black Hills South Dakota..., S

Building Mount Rushmore, 1926

Creator: Gutzon Borglum Curriculum Subjects: Art Grade Levels:
William E. Mitchell to Lester D. Gardner, July 26, 1924 (Gilder Lehrman Collecti

Creating the Air Force, 1924

Creator: William E. Mitchell Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, “Justice the Issue! Shall Sacco and Vanzetti

Sacco and Vanzetti, 1921

Creator: Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
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Teaching Resources

Movies and Migration

Curriculum Subjects: Art Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Postwar Labor Tensions

Curriculum Subjects: Economics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+

Problems of Youth

Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
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America between the Wars, 1917–1940, Part 2

Speaker(s): Michael Kazin Duration: 55 minutes 28 seconds

The Rise of Consumerism in the 1920s

Speaker(s): Michael Flamm Duration: 2 minutes 19 seconds
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