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

Mount Rushmore (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress)

Building Mount Rushmore, 1926

Creator: Gutzon Borglum Curriculum Subjects: Art Grade Levels:
William Mitchell, October 1925 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Div.)

Creating the Air Force, 1924

Creator: William E. Mitchell Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
View All

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
View All

Multimedia

America between the Wars, 1917–1940, Part 2

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

Calvin Coolidge and Economic Growth

Speaker(s): Amity Shlaes Duration: 41 minutes 40 seconds

Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America

Speaker(s): Donald L. Miller Duration: 2 minutes 42 seconds
View All