Between the Wars: Modernity's Promises and Pitfalls

Introduction and Perspective

The United States experienced a massive transformation from the moment the last bullet of World War I was fired on November 11, 1918 until the moment the first bombs began raining down on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

In the 1920s we became more urban, modern and industrialized. All of this activity created excitement (both welcoming and fearful), new opportunities and a seemingly bright and easy future. This decade of change created tensions between those charging ahead and those wishing to turn back the clock to a “simpler time” of American “normalcy”. It brought out the best in American ingenuity and enterprise (new technologies, advances in scientific knowledge, glistening new infrastructure and some expansion of civil rights) and the worst (hatred and bigotry ingrained in society and at times enshrined in to law).

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection,LC-DIG-fsac-1a34281 DLC
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection,LC-DIG-fsac-1a34387 DLC

While the Great Depression did not start with the stock market crash in October 1929 it was the most outwardly visible sign that things were not as good as they seemed and that the world was changing. The swift collapse of the U.S. economy in the very late 1920s and very early 1930s was followed by a decade of struggle and despair, and an eventual willingness on the part of Americans to be bold and experimental as they sought solutions to what were staggering problems.

While everyone in the late 1930s could see that Europe was on the verge of plunging into another catastrophic war most Americans were still uninterested in, and non-desirous of, entanglements in Europe. Equally concerning was growing Japanese aggression in the Asian Pacific, and the alliances being made between the Japanese and European dictators. Still, Americans were insistent upon not being drawn into foreign conflicts – 3,000 miles of ocean separated us to the east and west, giving us “splendid isolation”. But on a sunny Sunday morning in early December the U.S. was bombarded out of its isolation and economic problems and hurled into a whole set of new ones.


Our class' wiki is about this time period and what it was like to live in the United States during these twenty years. We are not taking a textbook approach and going over the politics, economics and policy decisions of the U.S. government at that time. We are instead looking at how American's faced adversity in these years. Adversity is hardship, distress and calamitous events. Understanding that reality is in the eye of the beholder what is adverse, distressful and calamitous to some is not to others – and through our work we are attempting to show how these two decades were promises and pitfalls to many different people at many different times.

This wiki is being built during the Fall 2010-'11 semester by students in Mr. Dennison's U.S. History II classes. This site is primarily for the use of my students and the Hunterdon Central community, but we hope that other guests who have found this page find our contributions and analyses useful for their own studies.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection,LC-DIG-fsac-1a35366 DLC

Editing this Wiki

While anyone is welcome to peruse and explore this wiki, the contributors to and editors of this wiki are Mr. Dennison and his students. Our work began in mid October 2010 and conclude in late November 2010, thus the wiki will be active, expanded and edited during this time frame. The section on the 1920s will be built out last, most likely next academic year as this project was not off the ground when we started studying that time period. If you have any suggestions for our class which would further our learning, or questions for us, do not hesitate to click on the Discussion tab to share your thoughts.

Thank You

We thank you for taking some time to see what we're up to, and if you left something on our Discussion tab we appreciate that too! I'd also like to thank colleague Damian Bariexca for his technical assistance and for graciously allowing me to adapt his British Literature wiki for my U.S. History II class.

The 48 star flag image we are using as our logo is courtesy of Baston Labaffe and used with permission as per user's indication on Wikimedia Commons.