Introduction: the 1920-1929 era

With the grim realization that the war which began in 1914 would not soon be won, the combatant countries of Europe had to increasingly commit all their creative and economic resources into waging total warfare. As the seemingly pointless and bloody stalemate dragged on, with no end in sight, physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion set in. Meanwhile, America watched and waited, sympathetic to the cause of freedom but unwilling to be dragged into the maelstrom. Talented and well-trained refugees, willing to work hard and contribute to new ways of doing things, helped propel America into taking the lead in many areas of science and the arts. Jazz emerged as a powerful creative force, assimilating and reinterpreting many tributary streams of old-world influences, and expressing the dawning of a new age with its freedom from inhibition. In fact, the post-war years became known as the Jazz Age.

In the wake of Allied victory, America took the stage as the arbiter of world power. With a flourishing economy and wide-open markets for her manufactured goods, she could face the future with unbounded optimism. Unlike the situation in Europe, she had no need to re-examine foundational values; there was no need for bitter recriminations over military incompetence, no cities to be laboriously cleared and rebuilt from the ashes and rubble of war. For the first time in history, the New World had the moral and economic clout to dictate to the Old.

As assembly-line practices pushing prices downward, the average American factory worker could now afford a Model T Ford. Millions began taking to the road for business and pleasure. The first licensed radio broadcast in Pittsburgh in 1920 caused great excitement across the nation, and other local radio stations sprang up, rapidly overtaking the phonograph as the primary form of home entertainment. Sales of phonographs and records collapsed, and many small independent record companies were forced into mergers, having to supply large quantities of cheap product to big chain-store outlets in order to survive -- shopping habits had also changed.

Sound tracks came to the movie screen during this era, the electric microphone making it possible for a singer to be heard above an orchestra or in a crowded dance-hall without the use of a voice-trumpet; the crooning vocalist overtook the band-leader as the star of the show. Electric recording technology, which first appeared in 1925, made the old-fashioned 'acoustic' method obsolete.

The fluid, organic lines of Art Nouveau style, which had permeated advertising art in the pre-war period, was unsuited to the brashness of the Jazz Age. A new style was born, featuring stark, straight lines and geometric curves. 'Art Deco' was so-called from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an international exhibition of industrial applied design, held in Paris in 1925.

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