People: The Roaring 20’s

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.