Portal:1920s

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The 1920s Portal

The 1920s was a decade that began on January 1, 1920 and ended on December 31, 1929. It is sometimes referred to as the Roaring Twenties or the Jazz Age, when speaking about the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. In Europe the decade is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age Twenties" because of the economic boom following World War I.

Since the end of the 20th century, the economic strength during the 1920s has drawn close comparison with the 1950s and 1990s, especially in the United States of America. These three decades are regarded as periods of economic prosperity, which lasted throughout nearly each entire decade. Each of the three decades followed a tremendous event that occurred in the previous decade (World War I and Spanish flu in the 1910s, World War II in the 1940s, and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s). The 1920s marked the first time in the United States that the population in the cities surpassed the population of rural areas. This was due to rapid urbanization starting in the 1920s.

However, not all countries enjoyed this prosperity. The Weimar Republic, like many other European countries, had to face a severe economic downturn in the opening years of the decade, because of the enormous debt caused by the war as well as the Treaty of Versailles. Such a crisis would culminate with a devaluation of the Mark in 1923, eventually leading to severe economic problems and, in the long term, favour the rise of the Nazi Party.

The 1920s were characterized by the rise of radical political movements, especially in regions that were once part of empires. Communism began attracting larger amounts of support following the success of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks' determination to win the subsequent Russian Civil War. To move the backward economy of Russia towards a more developed economy in which socialism would become possible, the Bolsheviks adopted a policy of mixed economics, from 1921 to 1928, and also created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the end of 1922. The 1920s also experienced the rise of the far right and fascism in Europe and elsewhere, being perceived as a solution to prevent the spread of Communism. The knotty economic problems also favoured the rise of dictators in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, such as Józef Piłsudski in the Second Polish Republic and Peter and Alexander Karađorđević in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The devastating Wall Street Crash in October 1929 drew a line under the prosperous 1920s.

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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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Ernest Hemingway (1958)
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) was an American writer and journalist. His distinctive writing style, characterized by economy and understatement, influenced 20th-century fiction, as did his apparent life of adventure and the public image he cultivated. He produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and his career peaked in 1954 when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway's fiction was successful because the characters he presented exhibited authenticity that reverberated with his audience. Many of his works are classics of American literature. After leaving high school, he worked for a few months as a reporter before leaving for the Italian front to become an ambulance driver during World War I, which became the basis for his novel A Farewell to Arms. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was written in 1924. After divorcing Hadley Richardson in 1927, Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer; they divorced following Hemingway's return from covering the Spanish Civil War, after which he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Martha Gellhorn became his third wife in 1940, but he left her for Mary Welsh Hemingway after World War II, during which he was present at D-Day and the liberation of Paris. Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, Hemingway went on safari to Africa, where he was almost killed in a plane crash that left him in pain or ill-health for much of the rest of his life. Hemingway had permanent residences in Key West, Florida, and Cuba during the 1930s and '40s, but in 1959 he moved from Cuba to Idaho, where he committed suicide in mid 1961.

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