1920s New York City

Time Square

New York City Population (1920 census):

5,620,000

Population Breakdown by Borough (Boroughs chartered 1898):

Bronx: 732,000
Brooklyn: 2,018,000
Manhattan: 2,284,000
Queens: 469,000
Staten Island: 117,000

1920s U.S. Presidents:

Woodrow Wilson (thru March 1921)
Warren G Harding (March 1921- August 1923)
Calvin Coolidge (August 1923 – March 1929)
Herbert Hoover (March 1929 – End of Decade)

1920s New York City Mayors:

John F. Hylan (thru December 1925)
James J. Walker (January 1926 – End of Decade)

A brief overview of the decade

In the 1920s, New York City was a major destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the American South. The Harlem Renaissance flourished during the era of Prohibition, coincident with a larger economic boom that saw the skyline develop with the construction of competing skyscrapers. During this decade, New York City became the most populous city in the world, starting in 1925 and overtaking London, which had reigned for a century.

Harlem Renaissance

Cotton club

The Harlem Renaissance refers to the flowering of African American intellectual life during the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”, named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, many French-speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies that lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.

Historians disagree as to when the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. It is unofficially recognized to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid 1930s. Many of its ideas lived on much longer. The zenith of the Harlem Renaissance was placed between 1924 and 1929; the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

Prohibition

Prohibition

Prohibition began on January 16, 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. Federal Prohibition agents (police) were given the task of enforcing the law.

Even though the sale of alcohol was illegal, alcoholic drinks were still widely available at speakeasies and other underground drinking establishments. Many people also kept private bars to serve their guests. Large quantities of alcohol were smuggled in from Canada, overland and via the Great Lakes.

Because Prohibition banned only the manufacturing, sale, and transport – but not possession or consuming of alcohol, some people and institutions that had bought or made liquor prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment were able to continue to serve it throughout the prohibition period legally.

Even prominent citizens and politicians later admitted to having used alcohol during Prohibition. President Harding kept the White House well stocked with bootleg liquor, though, as a Senator, he had voted for Prohibition. This discrepancy between legality and actual practice led to widespread contempt for authority.

Organized Crime

Mug Shots

Prohibition gave rise to the organized crime syndicate in the United States. Federal efforts to enforce prohibition, including raids on speakeasies, were countered by well-organized bootlegging operations with national and international connections. Wars among gangs, producing grisly killings, frequently made headlines.

Fashion

1920s Fashion

Fashion entered the modern era in the 1920s. It was the decade in which women first liberated themselves from constricting fashions and began to wear more comfortable clothes. Men likewise abandoned overly formal clothes and began to wear sport clothes for the first time. The suits which men wear today are still based, for the most part, on those which were worn by men in the late 1920s.

The 1920s were characterized by two distinct periods of fashion. The early 1920s where nature and change progressed slowly as many were reluctant to adopt the new styles. From 1925, the styles that have been associated with the Roaring Twenties were passionately embraced by the public and would continue to characterize fashion until early in the 1930s.

Slang

A list of 1920s slang can be found here.

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1920s New York City

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