Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


Capital and Labor

American Business

A string of vigorously pro-business presidents and their equally ardent administrations made the Twenties a particularly fertile era for business growth. Indeed, Calvin Coolidge's pro-capital fervor mirrored that of thousands of business and government leaders. "The man who builds a factory," said Coolidge in a January 1925 speech, "builds a temple. The man who works there worships there."

Indeed, many such temples were built. Factories producing everything from sewing machines (which themselves had revolutionized the garment industry) to newfangled gadgets like vacuum cleaners sprung up all over the country. The "Steel Belt" developed across urban centers located on the Great Lakes. The waterways provided easy access for receiving raw materials and shipping out finished goods.

The need for rapid production of tanks and other war machines during World War I had resulted in technological innovation and inspired much of the vigor that characterized 1920s industrial America. After the war, Europe had little energy (or capital) with which to compete with the momentum of American productivity.

High tariff policies, reductions in corporate income taxes, a dramatic decline in the power of the Federal Trade Commission, and the weakening of what little social legislation existed further invigorated industry. With the rise of advertising, "consumer culture," and buying on credit, many Americans craved luxury and enjoyed convenience never before imagined. The time was ripe for giddy stockholders and flush C.E.O.s.

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Photograph of office workers
Photograph of office workers
Eugene O. Goldbeck

Administrative careers bloomed as surely as manufacturing and sales positions grew in response to increased production, demand, and credit.

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