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LIFE Explores The Roaring 20's

LIFE Explores The Roaring 20's

LIFE Explores The Roaring 20's

The Roaring 20s was a decade like no other, defined by bootleggers and flappers, sports greats and Hollywood stars, mobsters and the literary generation, Wall Street and the syncopated rhythms of jazz. Now, the editors of LIFE turn back time to rediscover the exuberance that defined the era, from the young men and women who lit up the speakeasies to the daredevils who danced on airplane wings and the mega-wealthy who traveled the world in ostentatious style. Go inside the bizarre experiment of prohibition and the criminal underground it bolstered and hear the roar of the crowd cheering on Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and other sports heroes. Packed with rare photos and fact-filled text, this special edition takes you back to the decade that kicked off the modern age.

País:
United States
Idioma:
English
Editor:
Meredith Corporation
Periodicitat:
One-off
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1 min.
a measure of time

They called them the Roaring ’20s, and roar they did, with an intensity that still commands our attention a century later. Yearning to escape the shadows and gloom of World War I, young people broke with their parents’ musty Victorian morals and grabbed at unheard-of freedoms. Women, emboldened by their newly won right to vote, not only expressed their opinions but also danced, wore daring new fashions and, yes, even smoked. The brashest of the bunch, known as flappers, became the symbols of the glamorous era. Business boomed, and a consumer culture flourished, spurring Americans to buy flashy cars and new time-saving household appliances. A lucky few became fabulously wealthy, spending on breathtaking mansions, sprawling yachts and vacations to exotic destinations around the globe. Meanwhile, everyone danced. And when they did, it was…

3 min.
cultural revolution

Maybe it was inevitable after the dark days of World War I: As the 1920s got under way, Americans plunged headlong into an era of unadulterated hedonism. The watchword of the decade was fun, pure and simple, in pretty much every form imaginable. In cities all across the land, parties—fueled by illegal but widely available quantities of alcohol—seemed almost continuous. If a private event could not be found, frivolity was always on tap in the speakeasies and jazz clubs, where patrons danced the night away, intoxicated by the new rhythms emerging from African-American musicians like the great Louis Armstrong. The new music and the glittering venues brought with them shifting attitudes too, particularly among the young, who rejected their parents’ notions—outmoded, in their view—of what constituted proper behavior for chivalrous gentlemen and…

3 min.
the rich are different

Income equality and the danger it poses to the social fabric feels like a contemporary problem. But the gap between the rich and everyone else was never greater than in 1928, when the most prosperous 1 percent of American households controlled 51.4 percent of the nation’s wealth. (Today’s one-percenters control about 40 percent of the country’s wealth.) The booming economy, marked by increases in productivity, sales and wages, fueled enormous corporate profits. In 1923, U.S. Steel was operating so efficiently that it was able to reduce its workday from 12 to 8 hours, employ 17,000 additional workers and raise wages—all while building up the immense fortune of founder J.P. Morgan. Similar scenarios unfolded in many of America’s other burgeoning industries, from automobiles to home goods. The gross national product increased…

1 min.
a gathering storm

HIDDEN BENEATH the glamour and the glitter lay a harsh reality: the prosperity of the go-go ’20s was hardly universal, even leading to extremism. Farmers, lumbermen, New England textile workers, coal miners in Pennsylvania and many other ordinary Americans suffered. Mired in poverty, African-American sharecroppers in the South streamed northward in search of better lives. The face of America was changing. Millions of immigrants arrived on U.S. shores from Italy, Ireland and Eastern Europe. By 1920, after decades of largely open borders, almost 14 million residents—or 13 percent of the U.S. population—were foreign-born, a fivefold increase from 1850. This shift spawned a decidedly ugly brand of politics. The Ku Klux Klan emerged as a force, with membership reaching a high of 4 million in 1924. Calling for “100-percent Americanism,” the group expressed…

2 min.
liberated

As the decade began, women took to the streets to celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting them the vote. Newly empowered and energized, women were soon making their presence felt in the popular culture, frequently in unconventional guises. Flappers, jazz babies, brazen stars of the silver screen—these were women with opinions, who expressed their desires and their sexuality. Many discarded the corsets and girdles of yore and even went braless beneath the new fashions, which emphasized a girlish, athletic figure and suggested a woman ever on the go. Bright lipstick, colorful eye shadow and smoky mascara were introduced in the 1910s, but the new cosmetics became more widely available in the ’20s and offered women another means of bold expression. Every pharmacy and department store now sported a makeup…

1 min.
sell them their dreams

THE MIRACLE of mass production, which made it possible to manufacture affordable automobiles, unleashed a dazzling array of consumer goods. There were vacuum cleaners that replaced brooms; refrigerators that allowed consumers to keep food fresh for long periods of time; washing machines that rendered wringers obsolete. The “labor-saving” devices had the unintended effect of raising standards of cleanliness and creating more housework, but the businesses fostered new jobs and higher wages. Those in turn helped create the very consumers needed to support their operations. Of course, for consumer society to flourish, the public had to know where to direct these new dollars, and so the modern advertising business was born. It started in print, with colorful compositions that sold the notion that a particular product (kitchen cabinets, a stylish bathroom or…