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The 1920s Portal


The 1920s (pronounced "nineteen-twenties," often shortened to the "20s") was a decade that began on January 1, 1920, and ended on December 31, 1929. In America, it is frequently referred to as the "Roaring Twenties" or the "Jazz Age", while in Europe the period is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Twenties" because of the economic boom following World War I (1914-1918). French speakers refer to the period as the "Années folles" ("Crazy Years"), emphasizing the era's social, artistic, and cultural dynamism.


The 1920s saw foreign oil companies begin operations in Venezuela, which became the world's second-largest oil-producing nation. The devastating Wall Street Crash in October 1929 is generally viewed as a harbinger of the end of 1920s prosperity in North America and Europe. In the Soviet Union the New Economic Policy was created by the Bolsheviks in 1921, to be replaced by the first five-year plan in 1928. The 1920s saw the rise of radical political movements, with the Red Army triumphing against White movement forces in the Russian Civil War, and the emergence of far right political movements in Europe. In 1922, the fascist leader Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy. Economic problems contributed to the emergence of dictators in Eastern Europe to include Józef Piłsudski in Poland, and Peter and Alexander Karađorđević in Yugoslavia. First-wave feminism saw progress, with women gaining the right to vote in the United States (1920), Ireland (1921) and with suffrage being expanded in Britain to all women over 21 years old (1928).


In Turkey, nationalist forces defeated Greece, France, Armenia and Britain in the Turkish War of Independence, leading to the Treaty of Lausanne (July 1923), a treaty more favorable to Turkey than the earlier proposed Treaty of Sèvres. The war also led to the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate. Nationalist revolts also occurred in Ireland (1919–1921) and Syria (1925–1927). Under Mussolini, Italy pursued a more aggressive foreign policy, leading to the Second Italo-Senussi War in Libya. In 1927, China erupted into a civil war between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the Republic of China (ROC) and forces of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Civil wars also occurred in Paraguay (1922–1923), Ireland (1922–1923), Honduras (1924), Nicaragua (1926–1927), and Afghanistan (1928–1929). Saudi forces conquered Jabal Shammar and subsequently, Hejaz.


A severe famine occurred in Russia in 1921–1922 due to the combined effects of economic disturbance because of the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War, exacerbated by rail systems that could not distribute food efficiently, leading to 5 million deaths. Another severe famine occurred in China in 1928–1930, leading to 6 million deaths. The Spanish flu (1918–1920) and the 1918–1922 Russia typhus epidemic, which had begun in the previous decade, caused 25–50 million and 2–3 million deaths respectively. Major natural disasters of this decade include the 1920 Haiyuan earthquake (258,707~273,407 deaths), the 1922 Swatow typhoon (50,000–100,000 deaths), the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake (105,385–142,800 deaths), and the 1927 Gulang earthquake (40,912 deaths).


Silent films were popular in this decade, with the 1925 American silent epic adventure-drama film Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ being the highest-grossing film of this decade, grossing $9,386,000 worldwide. Other high-grossing films of this decade include The Big Parade and The Singing Fool. Sinclair Lewis was a popular author in the 1920s, with 2 of his books, Main Street and Elmer Gantry, becoming best-selling books in the United States in 1921 and 1927 respectively. Other best-selling books of this decade include All Quiet on the Western Front and The Private Life of Helen of Troy. Songs of this decade include "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "Stardust". (Full article...)

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The Jazz Singer is a 1927 American musical drama film directed by Alan Crosland. It is the first feature-length motion picture with both synchronized recorded music score as well as lip-synchronous singing and speech (in several isolated sequences). Its release heralded the commercial ascendance of sound films and effectively marked the end of the silent film era. It was produced by Warner Bros. with the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system and features six songs performed by Al Jolson. Based on the 1925 play of the same title by Samson Raphaelson, the plot was adapted from his short story "The Day of Atonement".

The film depicts the fictional story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a young man who defies the traditions of his devout Jewish family. After singing popular tunes in a beer garden, he is punished by his father, a hazzan (cantor), prompting Jakie to run away from home. Some years later, now calling himself Jack Robin, he has become a talented jazz singer, performing in blackface. He attempts to build a career as an entertainer, but his professional ambitions ultimately come into conflict with the demands of his home and heritage. (Full article...)
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Zishe Breitbart
Credit: National Photo Co.; Restoration: Michel Vuijlsteke

Siegmund "Zishe" Breitbart (1893–1925), shown here pulling a heavy weight using only his teeth, was a Polish strongman and circus performer who was known as the "Strongest Man in the World" during the 1920s. He was widely popular in both Europe and the U.S., but died at the age of 32 after an accident during a performance.

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Baker in 1940

Josephine Baker (born Freda Josephine McDonald; naturalised French Joséphine Baker; 3 June 1906 – 12 April 1975) was an American-born French dancer, singer and actress. Her career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adopted France. She was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, the 1927 silent film Siren of the Tropics, directed by Mario Nalpas and Henri Étiévant.

During her early career, Baker was among the most celebrated performers to headline the revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation in the city. Her costume, consisting of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace, became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. (Full article...)

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