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Around 1970 a book was published by Alvin Toffler titled Future Shock. The book was about what happens when people can no longer cope with the pace of change. It is interesting that in the 50 years since the book was published, the pace of change has accelerated: merely keeping up with the latest electronic devices is but one small measure of how rapidly the world is evolving. Equally interesting is to go back 50 years from the time of the publication of Future Shock to 1920. The world had changed a great deal since the end of the Civil War, but the 1920s brought even more revolutionary changes.

The Roaring Twenties moved America out of the Victorian Age and well into the Twentieth Century. Old values and outmoded ideas were replaced by a new cultural awareness, triggered by new inventions—radio, movies, automobiles, telephones and household appliances. Advances in transportation were dramatically illustrated by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. In that same year the first talking moving picture, The Jazz Singer, was produced.

Although change was steady and dramatic, some things seemed to remain the same. Only two Democratic presidents had been elected since the Civil War, and the trend of Republican holders of the White House seemed destined to continue. Immigration, which had reached a flood by 1900, slowed. But no one could claim that things were standing still. The world was moving forward.

In 1929, however, the crash of the stock market brought things to a screeching halt: the decade ended with a thud and was followed by a time of painful awakenings and hard labor—when labor of any kind was often very hard to find. The economic boom was over and the Great Depression crept over the landscape. The government faced unprecedented challenges and responded with unheard of solutions, as the relationships between the American people and their elected leaders were transformed. Wealthy people suddenly found themselves penniless, and the poor had to discover new means of survival.

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In 1933 New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt became president, and another kind of change got into high gear almost immediately: the government began to intrude more deeply into the lives of American citizens and the businesses that they operated. The Progressive Movement of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson lost steam during the 1920s, but during the New Deal years it accelerated once more. Nevertheless, the best efforts of FDR and his New Deal were limited: many did not survive.

In the international arena, the great powers had sought in the 1920s to find ways of avoiding another devastating war. But the 1920s and 1930s kinds of government leaders arose, charismatic fanatics whose intention was nothing less than to change the world in their favor. Lenin and Trotsky were followed by Mussolini and Hitler, and a militarist faction took over the government of Japan. Although the United States could observe those developments, for most of the 1930s Franklin Roosevelt and his administration were preoccupied with dealing with America's economic woes. But change was affecting even the way the next war would be fought; weapons were becoming more powerful, bigger faster aircraft were being added to the military arsenals of the nations, and naval warfare was being transformed with a shift from the battleship to the aircraft carrier as the most powerful naval weapon.

By 1940 the world had become a very different place from the world of 1920. Nevertheless, one could repeat the French phrase, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"--the more things change, the more they stay the same. The old international rivalries and power struggles were to continue. Age-old social problems of poverty and hardship continued. The fundamental structure of many societies moved ahead without much change, but the world around the people was evolving rapidly. People look to the skies and saw airplanes; they turned on their radios and heard voices from thousands of miles away; they could get in an automobile and drive dozens of miles in a matter of hours and cross the country in a matter of days. Then, between 1940 and 1945, the world would change in more unimaginable ways; in this chapter we take a deeper look at how we got there.

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Sage History Home | Twenties-Depression Home |Twenties | Depression| Updated December 12, 2013