At the beginning of the decade, American business was adjusting to its new role in the world economy after the end of World War I (1914–18). During the war, America had supplied the Allied European participants with food, equipment, money, and, eventually, troops. The war had created an economic boom in America like no other before it. The war also linked America with other nations through trade; American business grew on the strength of equipment and materials orders from other countries.
The American government provided generous financial support to American businesses during the war, which spurred the growth of technologically advanced manufacturing throughout the country. Those industries most helped were automobile, aircraft, and radio manufacturers. These industries had existed before the war, but federal spending allowed them to grow into massive operations that employed thousands of people. The large number of employees could quickly produce large quantities of products. In the 1920s, massive factories were established around the country. Rural people flooded new urban areas for the relatively lucrative work.
With ready cash on hand, people began buying products like never before. Chain stores popped up in neighborhoods; movie theaters were frequented; and the demand for automobiles seemed endless. Jeeps were one item that caught the interest of Americans. The hardy vehicles once used for the war had a variety of uses at home.
In each year of the decade, the economic indexes grew higher and higher, fueling people's optimism and spending habits. Credit became a popular purchasing method: buy now, pay later. A variety of new products emerged to entice people to buy more. Two particularly useful items were Tupperware and Saran Wrap. These plastic inventions revolutionized the storage of leftovers in the kitchen.
But not everyone enjoyed the booming economy. Farmers who had prospered during the war struggled in this decade and more than four million had to quit and find other work. Railroad employees felt unfairly treated but had to abandon a strike in 1922 without gaining much. Those living in the South and the Midwest, areas that relied mainly on agriculture, struggled as those living in other areas profited. Residents of the "industrial belt" of the Northeast and the Upper Midwest and the trading and movie mecca of the West Coast benefited much more. The uneven distribution of wealth around the country and the skyrocketing stock market made the stock market crash of 1929 all the more devastating.