The Modernization Of America Essay, Research Paper
The Modernization of America
The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. The telephone was invented in 1876. The first practical system for a radio was developed in 1895. The Wright brothers created a flying machine in 1903. The first gas powered automobile, the assembly line and the refrigerator were produced in the early 20th century. These are all very important steps in laying the foundation for the modernization of America, but I would argue that the first truly modern period in American history would have to be the 1920s.
The 1920s brought a capitalistic population who, as a nation, leaned toward isolationism. In two main fields, the 1920s modernized American society to reflect the America of the 21st century more than any era before it. These fields are media and business.
Along with a new decade came a new attitude from the media. By 1922 there were 22 magazines in circulation and by the end of the 1920s, 40% of Americans owned a radio. The first tabloid magazine appeared in 1919. The media that we know today spawned from this growth in the 20s. This new type of mass media permitted the spreading of national trends or obsessions, such as flagpole sitting. A 21st century equivalent to this type of rather bizarre behavior of national trends could be the Christmas “Tickle me Elmo” or “Furby” craze over the last few years. The national connection that the mass media provided also allowed for fashion to become important and for heroes in the world of sports to emerge.
Advertising became a lucrative business and targeted middle class homes. The decade brought a new openness about sex, and the media did not miss the chance to take part in this revolution. The movies were very popular and the film stars who were known for being “cute and innocent,” such as “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford were replaced by stars who were “sexy,” like “vamp,” Theda Bara.
Advertising and the availability of financing brought about a consumer revolution. The new consumer products appealed to people’s social ambitions. Very few of the products were necessities, but eventually, participating in the consumerism culture became a standard for judging one’s value; rather than religion, character or social standing as it had been before the 1920s.
Business is the other main area that accented the transition to modernization. Big business was seen throughout the later half of the 19th century, but there was a major shift that changed American business and employment forever. The 1920s saw more mergers than anytime in American history besides the 1980s and 90s. Income per capita increased by one-third which increased the standard of living for many people, allowing more than two-thirds of Americans to have electricity in their homes by 1929 and other modern household items such as washing machines, irons, vacuum cleaners, toasters and sewing machines.
Efficiency became a main issue in factories. Henry Ford could produce an automobile in 93 minutes as opposed to the fourteen hours it took him before. This also allowed him to sell the automobiles for a mere $295, that is, $700 less than the cost of the automobiles in 1908. The availability of the automobiles prompted both state and federal governments to pour millions of dollars into building new roads. This new industry also opened up new markets in oil, steel, rubber, glass and tools.
The working world was altered by the average work week dropping to 45 hours. Paid vacations were becoming more regular with 40% of companies offering them. The increase in free time led to Americans being “lost in leisure.” This caused a whole new era in the arts, a new rage for the movies, sports and fashion.
Media and business both changed drastically in the 1920s. The changes in these fields altered many other aspects of life and unknowingly aided each other in promoting leisure, a new social outlook, and a consumer revolution. These transformations marked the end of progressivism and though there were attempts to salvage it, America never saw it in the same form again. Without a doubt the inventions and ideas that were the very beginning of the modernization of America started decades before the 1920s but the population adopted the ideas and they became available and widespread in the 20s. Therefore I would consider the 1920s as the first truly modern era in American history.