The Roaring 20’s brought economic prosperity and new social norms to America. Automobiles became more affordable thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly line. The use of the airplane in World War I changed the aviation industry. Changing values saw conflicts over Prohibition, science and religion, and fear of communism surfacing after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Women became more independent and the Harlem Renaissance showcased the talents of the African American community.


Born in 1878, Glenn Curtiss is known as the “Father of Naval Aviation” and the “Founder of the American Aircraft Industry.” Always fascinated with machines, he first began with motorcycles. He became the fastest man in the world at the time when his motorcycle reached a speed of 136.3 mph. In 1908, Curtiss became the first person to fly a publicly viewed flight. In the next few years a legal battle with the Wright brothers began over the design of the flying machine. Even though the Wright brothers eventually won the suit, they did not push for monopoly status and the Curtiss company continued to manufacture airplanes. Curtiss’ company went on to build the largest fleet of airplanes used during World War I. Curtiss later developed a seaplane that was the first to take off and land on the deck of a ship. In 1929 the Curtiss Aeroplane Company merged with the Wright Aeronautical Company to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. This corporation is today a leading producer of high-tech components for the aeronautical industry.
Clarence Darrow was a lawyer and civil rights advocate. Most famously, he defended John T. Scopes in the “Scopes Monkey Trial” against fellow lawyer William Jennings Bryan. Scopes was a public school teacher accused of violating the Butler Act: a Tennessee law that made it illegal to teach “any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

Darrow believed this law violated the no establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. He told the Tennessee court, “If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools… At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers… we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots burn[ed] the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.”

The most dramatic moments in the trial came on the seventh day, when Bryan volunteered to serve as a witness based on his Biblical expertise. During Darrow’s examination, Bryan acknowledged that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally, and that indeed creation may have taken place over years. Though Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution, Darrow’s arguments are considered a landmark defense of the First Amendment’s prohibition on establishment of religion.

Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey became the first African American to speak openly and publicly about African nationalism. He believed the only way African Americans were going to achieve equality was to return to Africa and build a great nation of their own. He began to work to achieve this by acquiring a ship line known as the Black Star Line. He hoped to use this line to transport African Americans to their new home. He often gave speeches on the street corners of Harlem expressing his views. Because of his beliefs, he came under investigation by the BOI (Bureau of Investigation) which later became the FBI. The BOI believed he was a dangerous radical. Later civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. used his writings and speeches in the civil rights movement. Even though both men disagreed about the way equality should be achieved, they believed that Garvey was a model of a man who attempted to instill a sense of pride and dignity in African Americans. Today, allusions to Garvey and his influence can be found in pop culture musical genres such as hip-hop, blues, jazz, and reggae.
Warren G. Harding, born in Ohio in 1865, was elected to the U. S. Senate from Ohio in 1914. In 1920 the Republican Party nominated Harding as its candidate for President, and during the campaign he promised America a return to normalcy after the chaos of WWI. He championed the idea that “America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration…” He was elected the nation’s 29th President but died in 1923 before completing his term. As a conservative Republican, he sought to decrease the role of government in the American economy and allow business to flourish without intrusive government regulations. He protected American business by increasing tariffs on imported goods. His hands off (laissez-faire) approach to governing saw a reduction in government spending and a lowering of the income tax. He also worked with Congress to reduce excessive taxes on corporations. During his administration Americans paid one-third less in taxes. Harding died before some notorious scandals involving members of his administration became public knowledge. However the Teapot Dome Scandal in which a Harding cabinet member was caught taking a bribe tarnished the Harding presidency forever.
Charles A. Lindbergh, born in 1902, was the first pilot to complete a nonstop, solo transatlantic flight. He flew from the United States to Paris aboard his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. Newspapers nicknamed him “Lucky Lindy” and “Lone Eagle.” President Calvin Coolidge awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His son was kidnapped in 1932 and held for ransom only to be discovered murdered a couple of months later. To escape publicity, Lindbergh moved to Europe where he was invited by the French and German governments to visit their aircraft industries. In 1938, Hitler’s German government awarded Lindberg a German Medal of Honor. Nazi critics in the U. S. accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer. In 1939 he and his family returned to the U. S. In 1944 he went to the Pacific as an advisor to the U. S. military and, as a civilian, flew several combat missions. After the war, President Eisenhower restored his military commission and appointed him a Brigadier General in the U. S. Air Force. Pan American Airways hired him as a consultant where he helped design the Boeing 747. In 1953 he published The Spirit of St. Louis, a memoir of his 1927 flight, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. He died in 1974.
Documents/Supreme Court Cases
Benjamin Gitlow was a member of the left-wing section of the Socialist Party. The New York legislature had passed a law making it a crime to advocate the violent overthrow of the government. Gitlow was arrested and charged with having violated this law by writing, publishing, and distributing a pamphlet called the Left-wing Manifesto. The pamphlet urged the establishment of socialism by strikes and “class action … in any form.” At Gitlow’s trial in a New York court, his famous attorney, Clarence Darrow, argued that the pamphlet was speech and press protected by the First Amendment since it advocated nothing but only urged abstract doctrine. Furthermore, he argued, it did not call for immediate action, but instead called for action at some indefinite time in the future. Even though no evidence was introduced that the pamphlet’s publication had led to any unlawful action, Gitlow was convicted, and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 7-2 vote, with only Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis dissenting, the Supreme Court upheld Gitlow’s conviction. Of great significance, however, the Court, using the “incorporation” doctrine, declared that the freedom of speech and press were “among the fundamental rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states.” Nevertheless, the Court’s majority ruled that “states can punish utterances endangering the foundations of government and threatening its overthrow by unlawful means” because such speech would “present a sufficient danger to the public peace and to the security of the State.” The majority used the analogy of a smoldering campfire that could burst into flame at any time and noted that the state does not have to wait until the fire starts to take action to prevent it.

In their famous dissent, Justices Holmes and Brandeis stuck to the “clear and present danger rule” which Holmes had first enunciated in the 1919 Schenck case. They argued that what they called “the redundant discourse” in the pamphlet had “no chance of starting a present conflagration. Holmes wrote: “Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. … If in the long run the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way.”


Beginning in 1916, a large number of African Americans moved from the South to other parts of the country, especially the industrial Northeast. This migration continued until the mid-1960s, dramatically changing the demographics of the United States. The major reasons African Americans left the South included the lack of economic opportunities, harsh segregation practices, and Jim Crow laws found in most Southern states. As the industries grew in the North, African American men filled the need for industrial workers in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, even though the working conditions they faced were often dangerous. When they arrived, workers had trouble finding a place to live. As a result, workers often created their own community within the larger urban area. A prime example of this is Harlem in New York City.
In 1917, communists led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky staged a successful revolution to overthrow the Czar and establish a communist government in Russia. One of the first acts of the new government was to withdraw from World War I because the war had been especially difficult for the Russian people. When Russia withdrew from the war, Germany no longer had to defend both its eastern and western borders, which allowed them to focus their attention on the Western Front. The withdrawal caused a great deal of antagonism against the Soviet Union, formerly known as Russia, among the Allies still fighting Germany. After World War I, the antagonism between the Allies and the new communist government turned to fear. Western governments, and particularly the United States, became concerned that communism would spread, thus threatening both monarchies and democracies throughout Europe and the United States. This event set the stage for conflicts between the Soviet Union and the West led by the United States throughout the twentieth century.
As response to the anti-communist fear known as the First Red Scare intensified, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer established a special office to gather information on suspected radicals in the United States. Based on this information, Palmer ordered the arrest of suspected Socialists and dissenters. Over 6000 people were rounded up even though there was limited evidence against them, much of which did not rise to the standard required for an arrest. When it was discovered that many of these individuals were foreign born, the government made plans to deport them, resulting in the deportation of at least 500 dissenters. The First Red Scare eventually died down when many Americans voiced opposition to Palmer's Raids and the violations of civil rights that resulted from the raids.
In the 1920s a new type of music known as American Jazz emerged first in the city of New Orleans. As Jazz spread, new radio stations synonymous with the Roaring 20s lifestyle became popular around the country. Jazz clubs emerged in New York around Harlem. The Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater were the most well known. African American musicians Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and later Louis Armstrong symbolized the Jazz Age in the United States.
The largest African American community in the United States was located in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. This thriving community became the center of cultural achievements in art, theater, music, and literature in the 1920s, known as the Harlem Renaissance. Poets such as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson wrote about the experiences of African Americans. Jazz clubs and theaters flourished in Harlem during the time. However, due to segregation practices throughout the nation, individuals had to come to Harlem to enjoy this cultural experience.
Tin Pan Alley was the name given to an area of New York City where music publishers had their studios and offices. In the decade of the 20s, vaudeville musicians, actors, and dancers came to Tin Pan Alley publishers to audition and try to sell their acts and music. The name Tin Pan Alley came from a newspaper reporter describing the sound of multiple pianos being played at the same time because the publishers' offices were so close together.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian Immigrants who were outspoken critics of the U.S. government and considered to be anarchists. In 1921 they were arrested and tried for robbery and murder. Many believed they were innocent and only charged because of their nationality and beliefs about the government. When they were convicted and sentenced to death, their case became symbolic of the nativist tensions with immigrants at the time. In the end all appeals failed and the two were executed in 1927.
While President Warren G. Harding was not personally involved in the Teapot Dome scandal, several members of his administration were convicted of accepting bribes from oil companies over leases. The officials granted the leases, often to the ones with the highest bids, without accepting bids from their competitors. Harding's Secretary of the Interior was later convicted of accepting bribes and became the first Cabinet member to go to prison.
In 1908, Henry Ford began manufacturing the Model T automobile. By 1913, he streamlined the process by introducing the first moving assembly line, which maximized production in the automotive industry. The assembly line allowed Ford to produce cars that were much more affordable. By 1927, the Ford Motor Company had produced 15 million Model T cars. In addition to revolutionizing the automobile industry with the use of the assembly line, Henry Ford introduced the concept of the eight-hour workday. Reducing the workday for his employees allowed Ford to run three shifts of workers on his assembly lines. He also increased his workers’ wages to $5 per day—double the existing pay rate. Ford’s increase in wages made it possible for his employees to purchase the cars they produced. The convenience of automobile transportation provided Americans with the ability to live and travel wherever they wanted. The automobile industry eventually fueled the growth of suburbs because residents had the means of traveling in and out of the city.
In 1925, biology teacher John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee law by teaching the theory of evolution in his classroom. His trial caused national attention and brought two of the most distinguished lawyers to Tennessee to try the case. William Jennings Bryan argued for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow argued for the defense. It became a trial about opposing beliefs and whether or not modern science should be taught in the schools. Eventually Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was eventually overturned on a technicality.