Times & Places

1920-1929, United States, "1920s America"

Few moments in American cultural history are as readily recognized as the "roaring" twenties—their mere mention conjures dynamic images of flappers, Fords, and skyscraper cities. And yet, American artists responded to this dizzying new modern world with art that evoked stillness, clarity, and order. The artwork of this time expresses the artists' individual responses to the cultural upheaval that occurred in the interval framed by the aftermath of the Great War and the onset of the Great Depression. Confronted with a population and an environment that was newly and permanently altered by a sweeping wave of mechanization and urbanization, artists coined a lean modern realism to process an overwhelming barrage of stimuli and to create something authentic and grounded. Though long perceived as entirely conventional, this new brand of realism is tellingly inscribed with the dislocations and adaptive struggles of the individual in a profoundly changed world.

One quickly comes to recognize works of American art created during the decade of the twenties. They are objects in which opposites appear to meet and recombine: formal perfection with blunt immediacy, visual clarity with an erasure of detail. In the new realism that typified American art of the decade, liberated modern bodies resonate with classical ideals, the teeming modern city is rendered empty and silent, and still life is pared to an essentialized clarity. Rising to a self-imposed challenge, American artists sought to be vividly present and emphatically modern—to extend, in the words of Thomas Hart Benton, "new feelers for new realities." Their modernity was evinced, above all, in a desire for direct engagement, a faith in the potency of youth, and a belief in the sustaining value of beauty.



  • Prohibition is enacted, making the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal.

  • The Nineteenth Amendment grants women the right to vote.

  • Violence in Matewan, West Virginia, anticipates the nationwide miner's strike.

  • The Olympics resume after an eight-year hiatus.

  • Agatha Christie publishes her first Hercule Poirot mystery.


  • The American population is now more urban than rural.

  • Betty Crocker is created by the Washburn Crocker Company to promote Gold Medal flour.

  • Wonder Bread is introduced.

  • The first Miss America Pageant is held in Atlantic City.

  • West Coast manufacturers begin producing the "California style" one-piece knit swimsuit.

  • The Federal Aid Highway Act is passed and will produce 96,000 miles of highway by 1927.

  • Frigidaire (owned by General Motors) produces its first home refrigerator.


  • Charles Atlas (Angelo Siciliano), named "Most Perfectly Developed Man," markets a mail-order-body-building course.

  • Sinclair Lewis publishes Babbitt, whose title character is a booster for American commercialism.

  • Ida Cohen Rosenthal invents the "Maiden Form" support bra, although the flattening bandeau bra remains popular.

  • The Chinese game of mah-jongg becomes a fad in the United States.

  • True Confessions magazine begins publication.

  • Archaeologist Howard Carter discovers Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt, and Grauman's Egyptian Theatre opens in Hollywood.


  • Time becomes the first weekly news magazine.

  • Psychotherapist Emile Coué's self-hypnosis program popularizes the affirmation "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better."

  • The all-black Broadway musical Runnin' Wild introduces the Charleston to white audiences.

  • The French firm Claude Neon sells the first neon gas sign in America to a Los Angeles car dealer.

  • Clarence Birdseye patents the process for quick-freezing food.

  • The Cotton Club, featuring black entertainers for white audiences, opens in Harlem.

  • Coca Cola introduces the six-pack carrier, encouraging bulk purchasing of soda.

  • Actress Fanny Brice's "nose job" inspires a rage for cosmetic plastic surgery.

  • Blues singer Bessie Smith's recording of "Gulf Coast Blues" and "Down Hearted Blues" is an overnight success.


  • The National Origins Act restricts European immigration and prohibits Asian immigration.

  • Samuel Goldwyn offers Sigmund Freud $100,000 to write a love story for Hollywood.

  • The Little Orphan Annie comic strip debuts in the Daily News.

  • Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms debuts on Broadway but is banned in Boston.

  • The frosted incandescent light-bulb is invented.

  • The Graflex RB series B is becoming the camera preferred by many of the decade's leading photographers.


  • The New York Times reports that 350 new buildings are under construction in the city.

  • The New Yorker begins publication.

  • John Scopes is tried in Tennessee for teaching evolution in a public school.

  • Alain Locke publishes The New Negro, a manifesto for the New Negro movement.

  • The Ku Klux Klan's resurgence peaks with a rally of 40,000 in Washington, DC.

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes The Great Gatsby.

  • The Victor Orthophonic Victrola becomes the first consumer phonograph for electronically recorded records.


  • Greta Garbo and John Gilbert perform the first cinematic horizontal-position kiss in Flesh and the Devil.

  • Gertrude Ederle is the first woman to swim the English Channel, beating the men's record.

  • Hollywood heartthrob Rudolph Valentino's death leads to mass hysteria and rioting in New York.

  • "Milk Duds" are christened when a new machine designed to make round coated candies produce flat ones.

  • The wealthiest Americans receive a major tax cut.

  • The cigarette vending machine is invented.

  • Book-of-the-Month Club is introduced.


  • Ford Motor Company's River Rouge plant opens as the world's largest industrial complex, employing 75,000.

  • Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic.

  • The first miniature-golf course opens, in Tennessee.

  • Rotary-dial telephone service begins.

  • Max Factor introduces makeup products for nontheatrical consumers.


  • Gerber baby food goes on the market.

  • Kraft unveils the processed cheese Velveeta.

  • Walt Disney introduces Mickey Mouse in the animations Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie.

  • Dubble Bubble becomes the first bubble gum.

  • Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover employs the slogan "a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage."

  • IBM redesigns the punch card, a data-processing tool that is used for fifty years.


  • The first Academy Awards ceremony is held in Hollywood.

  • Ninety million movie tickets are sold each week.

  • 7-Up is first introduced as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, a cure for hangovers.

  • Federal agent Eliot Ness heads a new Prohibition unit in Chicago to combat the mob violence escalating under Al Capone.

  • The U.S. stock market crashes on October 29, ending a five-year bull market with losses of $319 billion.

Adapted from

Exhibition label copy, 2012.

Related Multimedia

lecture in conjunction with Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy, June 1 - September 14, 2008; Kosinski discusses Murphy's connection to the Dallas Museum of Art

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