The 1920s Timeline
How It All Went Down
Germany Allies End World War I
Germany and the Allies sign an armistice to end the fighting in World War I.
Congress ratifies the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the sale of alcohol anywhere in the United States.
In Seattle, local trade unionists affiliated with both the mainstream American Federation of Labor and the radical Industrial Workers of the World organize a general strike, halting economic activity in the city for five days. The strike ultimately fails when workers, threatened with state violence and undermined by their own cautious labor leaders, return to their jobs. Still, by raising the specter of class-based revolution, the Seattle General Strike terrifies many Americans, leading to new anti-labor sentiment and the postwar Red Scare.
Treaty Creates Conflict
In Paris, diplomats representing the combatant nations of World War I sign the Treaty of Versailles, which promises to sustain peace through the creation of the League of Nations but also plants the seed of future conflict by imposing mercilessly stiff reparations upon Germany.
Woodrow Wilson Suffers a Stroke
Under heavy strain while on a speaking tour promoting the League of Nations, President Woodrow Wilson suffers a stroke, leaving him largely incapacitated for the final 18 months of his term. He dies on February 3, 1924.
More Urban Than Rural
The United States Census reports, for first time, that more Americans live in urban areas than in rural areas. However, "urban" is defined as any town with more than 2,500 people.
Steel Strike Ends
The Great Steel Strike of 1919 ends with capitulation by the steelworkers.
Senate Rejects League
Too Much Cotton
Cotton prices at New Orleans peak at 42 cents a pound, prompting Southern farmers to plant the largest crop in history. The resulting overproduction causes a collapse in prices, with cotton falling to less than 10 cents a pound by early 1921. Cotton farmers will toil in near-depression conditions throughout most of the 1920s and 30s.
Charismatic black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican immigrant, convenes the first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World in New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Nineteenth Amendment is ratified, granting women the right to vote.
Republican Warren G. Harding is elected to the presidency by a landslide. Harding wins 60% of the popular vote and 75% of the electoral vote; Democrat James Cox wins only a handful of states in the South. Socialist Eugene Debs garners more than 900,000 votes despite campaigning from prison, where he is incarcerated for violating the wartime Espionage Act by giving an antiwar speech in 1918.
Congress passes immigration restrictions, for the first time creating a quota for European immigration to the United States. Targeted at "undesirable" immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, the act sharply curtails the quota for those areas while retaining a generous allowance for migrants from Northern and Western Europe.
Baseball's World Series is broadcast on radio for the first time; the New York Giants defeat the New York Yankees, five games to three.
Congress passes the Fordney-McCumber Tariff, sharply raising tariff duties to protect the American market for American manufactures. The tariff boosts the domestic economy of the Roaring Twenties, but it also worsens the crisis for struggling European economies like Germany's, helping to enable Adolf Hitler's rise to power there on a platform of economic grievance.
Yankee Stadium, "The House that Ruth Built," is constructed in the Bronx, New York.
Ford Motor Company
The market capitalization of Ford Motor Company exceeds $1 billion.
F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes The Great Gatsby.
Scopes Violates Ban
Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes is arrested for teaching evolution, in violation of new state law banning the teaching of Darwin. The ensuing "Scopes Monkey Trial," pitting defense attorney Clarence Darrow against three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in a proxy debate of modernity versus fundamentalism, captivates the nation. Scopes is eventually found guilty.
Forty thousand Ku Klux Klansmen march on Washington, their white-hooded procession filling Pennsylvania Avenue.
Charlie Chaplin in Gold Rush
Charlie Chaplin's popular silent comedy The Gold Rush premieres before enthusiastic audiences.
The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway publishes The Sun Also Rises.
Buster Keaton's comedy classic The General, considered by many to be the greatest silent film ever made, premieres.
Mae West Obscene
Risqué entertainer Mae West is found guilty of obscenity by a New York court and sentenced to ten days in jail.
Spirit of St. Louis
With all possible avenues of appeal now exhausted, Italian immigrant radicals Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are executed by electric chair.
Babe Ruth 60
New York Yankees star Babe Ruth hits his 60th home run of the season, breaking his own record of 59. Ruth's record will stand for more than thirty years.
The Jazz Singer
Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, the first "talking" motion picture, premieres, marking the beginning of the end of the silent film era.
Herbert Hoover, running on a slogan of "A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage," is elected to the presidency, crushing Catholic Democrat Al Smith to maintain Republican dominance of the Oval Office.
Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie premieres, introducing the world to a new animated character—Mickey Mouse.
In the "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre," the single bloodiest incident in a decade-long turf war between rival Chicago mobsters fighting to control the lucrative bootlegging trade, members of Al Capone's gang murder six followers of rival Bugs Moran.
Stock Market Collapse
The American stock market collapses, signaling the onset of the Great Depression. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaks in September 1929 at 381.17—a level that it will not reach again until 1954. The Dow will bottom out at a Depression-era low of just 41.22 in 1932.