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In the years after World War I, new technologies changed America. Technology made it possible for millions of people to improve their lives. It also brought great changes in American society.
This week in our series, Harry Monroe and Kay Gallant tell more about the technological and social changes that took place in the United States in the early 1920’s.
Some of the most important changes came as a result of the automobile and the radio.
Automobiles began to be mass-produced. They were low enough in cost so many Americans could buy them. Gasoline was low in cost, too. Together, these developments put America on the move as never before.
Automobiles made it easy for Americans to travel. Trucks made it easy for goods to be transported. Many people and businesses moved out of crowded, noisy cities. They moved to open areas outside cities: suburbs.
As automobiles helped Americans spread out, the radio helped bring them closer together. Large networks could broadcast the same radio program to many stations at the same time. Soon, Americans everywhere were listening to the same programs. They laughed at the same jokes, sang the same songs, heard the same news.
Another invention that produced big changes in American life was the motion picture.
American inventor, Thomas Edison, began making short motion pictures at the turn of the century. In 1903, a movie called “The Great Train Robbery” was the first to tell a complete story. In 1915, D.W. Griffith made a long, serious movie call “Birth of a Nation.”
By the early 1920’s, many American towns had a movie theater. Most Americans went to see the movies at least once a week. The movie industry became a big business. People might not know the names of government officials, but they knew the names of every leading actor and actress.
Movies were fun. They provided a change from the day-to-day troubles of life. They also were an important social force.
Young Americans tried to copy what they saw in the movies. And they dreamed about far-away places and a different kind of life. A young farm boy could imagine himself as romantic hero, Douglas Fairbanks, or comedian, Charlie Chaplin. A young city girl could imagine herself as the beautiful and brave Mary Pickford.
Rich families and poor families saw the same movies. Their children shared the same wish to be like the movie stars. In this way, the son of a banker and the son of a factory worker had much in common. The same was true for people from different parts of the country.