The 1920s: Quick Facts

Call of Cthulhu and related games are often set in the first half of the 20th century. Below is a brief guide to various aspects of life in the 1920s. Make sure to check the links at the bottom of the page for general 1920s resources and scans of catalogs, magazines, and pulps from the period.


Art

  • American Realism, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Constructivism, Dada, Expressionism, German Expressionism, the Mexican Muralist Movement, Social Realism, Surrealism, and other art movements flourished.
  • Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, Wassily Kandinsky, George Grosz, Paul Klee, Tamara de Lempicka, René Magritte, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright were famous artists from this period.
  • The Harlem Renaissance was a period of African-American (“negro,” at the time) art, music, and culture flourished. It spanned the period between the end of World War I (1918) and the mid-1930s. Jazz and blues musicians like Duke Ellington and Gretrude “Ma” Rainey and authors like W.E.B. Dubois and Langston Hughes became famous with people of all ethnicities.


Entertainment

  • A. A. Milne, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, André Breton, and H. L. Mencken found success as writers.
  • The Golden Age of Radio began. The first commercial radio station in the U.S. was launched in 1920.  One million sets were in use by 1922.
  • Motion Pictures become a popular form of entertainment, leading to vaudeville’s sharp decline in popularity by the early 1930s.
    • In the early 1920s, pianists in theaters were given sheet music to play in accompaniment with silent films.
    • The first color film – “The Toll of the Sea” – debuted in 1922
    • The first commercial screening of a film with sound (a “talkie”) was in 1923, but they didn’t really take off until the last few years of the decade.
    • In 1927, “The Jazz Singer” was the first movie to feature dialogue.
    • Mickey Mouse first appeared on theater screens in 1928.
    • Famous actors of the period included Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valention, Mae West, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Anna May Wong (the first Chinese-American movie star), Al Jolson, and many more.


Fads

  • marathon dancing
  • mah-jongg
  • crossword puzzles
  • pole dancing contests in dance halls
  • pole sitting


Fashion

  • Jewelry was strongly influenced by Art Nouveau designs.
  • Young women increasingly wore sportswear and clothing influence by the flapper aesthetic.
  • Popular men’s hats included the bowler, fedora, flat cap, homburg, newsboy cap, straw boater, trilby, and top hat.  The cloche hat was popular with women.
  • Functional, durable children’s play clothing became the norm, as opposed to more elaborate and layered clothing of the past.

Science

  • Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”
  • In 1922, Neils Bohr received the Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them.”
  • Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, but it wouldn’t become a widely-used antibiotic until the 1930s.

Music

  • Dance clubs became a major form of entertainment.
  • The Foxtrot, The Waltz, and The Tango were the most popular dances.
  • Jazz became a popular form of music.
  • The Cotton Club opened in Harlem in 1923, with African-American performers catering to a white audience.  Cab Calloway was a regular performer there. The Savoy Ballroom opened in 1926 with no restrictions on the ethnicities of the guests.
  • Jazz and Blues became popular with people of all ethnicities.
  • The genre of Country Music started to form.
  • Famous singers of the period included Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bing Crosby, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rodgers, The Carter Family, Cole Porter, Béla Bartók, and George Gershwin.

Social Issues

  • Women began to work outside the home.
  • The Equal Rights Amendment was presented to Congress in 1921.
  • Flappers arose in the post-World War I years.  They were young women who had rejected traditional gender roles in favor of living broader, freer lives, like men.  They were particularly known for going to “wild” parties, drinking, smoking, and embracing sexual freedom.  The 1920 film “The Flapper,” the first U.S. film to depict that subculture.
  • The KKK reached somewhere between 4 and 5 million members in the 1920s, their highest membership ever. They fell to 30,000 members by 1930, though. By 1923 they were opposed by the Red Knights, an organization made up of Catholics that was open to people of all ethnicities.
  • Prohibition was enacted by 1919, and continued until 1933.Women gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment in 1920.
  • The first US Red Scare ended in 1920 (it started in 1917).
  • The National Origins Act / Immigration Act of 1924 set limits on the number of immigrants who could enter the U.S., according to their country of origin.
  • The Scopes Trial of 1925 started a national conversation regarding the teaching of evolution in schools.
  • Elliot Ness led “The Untouchables,” government Prohibition agents, from 1929-1932, to help bring down Al Capone and other gangsters.  The underground bars of the time were known as “speakeasies.”
  • The Great Depression begins after Black Tuesday (October 29, 1929).
  • The American Mafia/Cosa Nostra grew throughout the 1920s, partially in response to Prohibition.  Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and others got their start in organized crime in the earlier “Five Points Gang.”

Sports

  • Baseball was the #1 sport. Babe Ruth joined the New York Yankees in 1920 and gained fame as a power hitter. The farm system was created, and the Negro National League was formed and ran from 1920-1931.
  • Jack Dempsey was the World Heavyweight Champion from 1919 – 1926.
  • The first professional basketball leagues in the U.S. were created.
  • The American Professional Football Association was formed in 1920.
  • Golf became more popular, with American Walter Hagen winning the British Open Championship in 1922.
  • The first Winter Olympic Games is held in France in 1924.

Technology

  • Indoor plumbing and household electricity became more common.
  • Telephone became more widespread.  In 1920, 35% of homes had a telephone.  Rotary dial phones were replacing the old “stick style” ones.  In 1926 the first transatlantic phone call was made from London to New York.
  • Mass-produced automobiles became common, with Ford releasing the Model T in 1927.The first liquid-fueled rocket was launched in 1926.
  • In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight.

Toys

  • Meccano, Erector, Lincoln Logs, and Tinkertoys building sets were popular toys of the time.
  • Companies like the Knickerbocker Toy Company made teddy bears popular.
  • Donald Duncan promoted the yo-yo, making it a popular toy.
  • Hornby produced the first electric train sets in 1925.
  • Effanbee and Schoenhut produced popular dolls for girls.
  • Kites, marbles, stick horses, wooden blocks, and tops continued to be popular childhood toys.

U.S. Presidents

  • Warren G. Harding (1921 – 1923)
  • Calvin Coolidge (1923 – 1929)
  • Herbert Hoover (1929 – 1933)

Wars

  • World War I had ended (1918)
  • Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921)
  • Irish War of Independence (1919-1921)
  • Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923)
  • Chinese Civil War (1927-1937)

World Affairs

  • Fascists continued to gain power in Italy, and were later copied by Adolf Hitler.
  • The Weimar Republic in Germany ran from 1919 to 1933, with its Golden Era lasting from 1924-1929. It was a cultural renaissance period where new forms of entertainment and new ideas about modernity flourished.
  • King Tut’s Tomb was discovered in 1922, leading to a worldwide fascination with Ancient Egypt.
  • The Soviet Union was formed in 1922.
  • Egypt gained independence from Britain (1922).
  • The Pahlavi Dynasty rose as the last Iranian monarchy (1925-1979).

General Links

The 1920s

The Roaring Twenties

The Jazz Age

Années Folles (France)

Golden / Happy Twenties (Germany)

Weimar Culture (Germany)


Catalog Links

1920 Montgomery Ward Catalog

1921 Sears Honor Bilt Homes Catalog

1924 Stowe Supply Company: General Catalog No. 30


Magazine Links

1919 (Oct.) – 1920 (Jan.) Munsey’s Magazine

1920 (Aug. 15) – Aviation Week

1921 (Jan.) – The Red Book Magazine

1922 (Jan.) Picture-Play Magazine

1922 (Apr.) Shadowland

1926 (April) Amazing Stories, Volume 01 Number 01

1926 (Jun. 5) Western Story Magazine

1926 (Aug.) McCall’s Magazine

1928 (Feb.) Meccano Magazine

1929 (Feb.) Nation’s Business

1929 (Mar.) The Merry Magazine


Pulps with Lovecraft Stories

1925 (Jan.) Weird Tales (includes “The Festival”)

1926 (Aug.) Weird Tales (includes “The Terrible Old Man”)

1927 (Jan.) Weird Tales (includes “The Horror at Red Hook”)

1927 (Oct.) Weird Tales (includes “Pickman’s Model”)

1928 (Jun.) Weird Tales (includes “The Lurking Fear”)

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