06 Feb Was it All So Simple Then?
When we think about the 1920’s, we have a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time. Alcohol was illegal, but people seemed to have more fun drinking. Jazz was brand new, women were just entering the polling booths to vote, and people were generally prospering. The reality was quite different, but the past is far more romantic through our rose colored glasses.
Take 1929, which can easily be considered a sort of historical New Year’s Eve for America. Fresh off the win in World War I, the roaring twenties brought glamour and prosperity to the relatively young country. America has been challenged, in fact in ways that we can’t even really imagine now. We had just suffered through two major wars, the Civil War and World War I, but somehow the history books about the 1920’s don’t show the strife that those times must have caused for regular people.
And so it was in 1929 when America was full of glamour, gin, and ambition. Automobiles were becoming a reality for regular Americans. The stock market was booming, world peace was a reality, and the theater was at its top. This is the before. This is when America couldn’t yet see anything beyond Chicago’s bright lights, booming jazz, and romantic Robinhood-esque gangsters, providing the supply and demand the people wanted most. The Cubs even played in the World Series in 1929, what could ever possibly break a Chicagoan’s heart?
There was no reason Americans couldn’t feel confident. The new country was a world super power, now winning wars on the international scale. So people started investing in this relatively new concept of the stock market, using easy to obtain credit and the hope that was so contagious.
President Hoover is the president when the Roaring Twenties see the stroke of midnight. On October 24, 1929, as the stock market inexplicably crashes. Too many people to count lost jobs. Meanwhile, those jobs that they could have had in the production, manufacture, and sale of alcohol are still illegal. There’s something very strange beginning to happen in Europe, though few people outside of Washington are aware. The general mood of the country is changing with the dawn of the New Year.
Suddenly, it seems that everyone realizes all at once that there are jobs to be had in this country. Good jobs in alcohol manufacturing plants around the country that could exist again. What harm would it do? The glitz and glamour of the 1920’s is completely gone and all anyone really wants is a job and a drink. And the government? They can’t help, because they’ve lost $11 billion in alcohol taxes due to Prohibition. (Historical side note, that money didn’t just stay in peoples’ pockets, it went into the pockets of the mob that was selling alcohol the entire time. Capone gets richer, America gets poorer, and no one seemed to notice.)
This is why we celebrate the 1920’s. From the dawn of Prohibition until October 24, 1929. We know happens next and we know, unlike the people actually living it, that it ebbs and flows and the country continues. We also know what eventually happens to the Cubs, but at least we’ve always been able to drink at Wrigley in our lifetimes.
Written by Amy Williams