Technology Changes Daily Life

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Technology Changes Daily Life

A wide range of exciting discoveries, developments, and advancements whose seeds had been planted in earlier years blossomed during the 1920s. What had once been the dreams and visions of farsighted scientists, researchers, and inventors became, to varying degrees, normal parts of many people's daily lives.

Perhaps the leading example is the automobile. This vehicle was already in existence at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it was not a common sight on the roads of the nation until the 1920s, when car ownership rates skyrocketed. It was during this decade that Henry Ford (1863–1947) and other automobile manufacturers made cars that almost anybody could afford to buy. In 1919 there had been 6.9 million passenger cars in the United States, but by 1929 there were 23 million.

A similar story is told in the development of the airplane. The first manned flight had taken place in 1903, when an airplane designed by Orville (1871–1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867–1912) lifted off the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Something of a gap in aviation progress then occurred,

followed by a period of renewed accomplishment when World War I (1914–18) began. Beginning in the early 1920s aviation ceased to be limited to the daring feats of barnstormers (pilots who performed stunts with their airplanes to entertain the public). By the end of the decade there were regularly scheduled flights linking U.S. cities, and one of the greatest U.S. heroes of twentieth-century, Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974), had made his famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists were also gaining fame in the realms of astronomy and medicine. Research done during the 1920s revealed the nature of the universe as well as more effective treatments for diabetes and other illnesses. A mold was discovered that would later be made available as penicillin, a drug that could kill the bacteria that caused many deadly diseases.

Technology also brought conveniences and safety into the home. By the end of the decade most people, especially those living in cities, enjoyed the benefits of electrical power and indoor plumbing, one of the most dramatic changes from life in previous centuries. Many homes had radios, which gave people instant access to news and information as well as entertainment. Labor-saving devices like washing machines and vacuum cleaners were much in demand, although still too expensive for most members of the working and lower classes. Generally, though, everyone benefited from the widespread expansion of electricity and water services and the improvements in hygiene and health care that occurred during the 1920s.

The craze for automobiles

Near the end of the nineteenth century, young Henry Ford left his family's farm in Dearborn, Michigan, determined to make something of himself. He became a mechanic and soon developed a passionate interest in the automobiles that were beginning to be seen, in very small numbers, on the roads of cities and towns around the nation. (For example, in 1895 only 4 automobiles were registered in the United States; by 1920 there were 8.5 million, and more than twice that number were registered in 1927.) After building himself a car, Ford decided to make this new technology his life's work. He founded the Ford Motor Company and began making automobiles in line with the expectations of the day: they were big and expensive. But Ford grew increasingly convinced that he could produce a smaller car that would be cheap enough (that is, costing less than $1,000) for almost anybody to buy. Other manufacturers laughed at Ford, but in 1908 he introduced his compact, inexpensive Model T, which quickly gained massive popularity with consumers.

Making a smaller, cheaper car

Ford could hardly keep up with the demand for the Model T. Looking for ways to increase production, he turned to the scientific management techniques then being proposed by industrial engineer Frederick Taylor (1856–1915). Taylor had conducted studies to determine the best ways to coordinate the motions of men with the industrial machines they used, and he suggested more efficient ways of managing businesses. In addition to these concepts, Ford employed a new method in his factories. He set up what would come to be called an assembly line, a moving belt along which the approximately five thousand parts that made up a car would be put together by workers performing single, specific tasks. The parts moved past the workers at waist height, and the workers were forbidden to sit, whistle, smoke, or even make small talk with each other as they worked.

By this method and by strict and careful overview of his workers and their surroundings, Ford soon reduced the time it took to make a Model T from one every twelve hours to one every ninety minutes. In order to cut down on worker turnover, that is the rate of workers starting and quitting jobs, Ford made an amazing offer: he would pay his workers five dollars a day, an incredibly high wage for factory work during this period. Despite the unpleasant aspects of working in a Ford plant, especially the boredom and the rigid rules, men lined up for jobs and kept them. As a result, Ford was able to speed up the line even more, and production rose to an incredible ten thousand cars per week.

The importance of cars in U.S. culture

U.S. consumers developed a strong fondness for the car that became known as the "Tin Lizzie." Despite its drawbacks—such as the fact that it was only available in black, included no fancy extras (not even a gas gauge), and tended to break down a lot—the Model T was simply designed and thus easy to fix. The best part, of course, was the car's price tag: at its cheapest, a Model T cost only $260, and a used Model T could be bought for as little as $50. Meanwhile, Henry Ford became not only extremely wealthy but also a folk hero to ordinary people, a self-educated man who had worked hard and lifted himself to great heights. Ford also gained the gratitude of the labor unions through his progressive policies, which included not only high wages but also a work week of only forty hours, rather than the usual forty-eight.

It was in the 1920s that automobiles took up their important role in U.S. culture. Called "the supreme machine of the 1920s" by historian Geoffrey Perret in his book America in the Twenties, the automobile provided jobs for five million people, who were involved not only in the assembly of cars but also in the manufacture of the raw materials used to make them, dealerships, the manufacture and sale of parts and supplies, the gasoline industry, and service stations. Car ownership allowed people to commute to work, thus leading to the expansion of the suburbs, as workers no longer needed to live close to their jobs, and to take family outings and vacations. Social life and dating were enhanced by the greater privacy that automobiles allowed. In Middletown, their study of the changes occurring in a small U.S. town during the 1920s, Robert and Helen Lynd reported that the automobile was now considered "an accepted essential of normal living."

The mass popularity of the automobile was highlighted by the public response when, in 1927, Ford introduced a new car, the Model A. People waited for its unveiling with eager anticipation and traded guesses on what it would look like and the features it would have. The day that the car was to be introduced, Ford ran full-page advertisements in newspapers across the country, and people flocked to the showrooms of Ford dealerships. In New York so many came to the city's largest dealership that the exhibition had to be moved to Madison Square Garden. Scores of people also gathered in smaller cities like Cleveland, Ohio, and Kansas City, Missouri. And they were not disappointed, for the Model A came with such exciting new features as a choice of colors (from Florentine Cream to Niagara Blue) and enough power to reach speeds as high as 70 miles per hour.

Alfred P. Sloan: Challenging Ford's Dominance

Alfred P. Sloan was an innovative businessman who, along with Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company and Walter P. Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation, helped to make automobile manufacturing a leading industry. Serving as chief executive officer, president, and chairman of the board, Sloan built General Motors (GM) into one of the most successful of all U.S. companies.

Born in 1875 in New Haven, Connecticut, Sloan grew up in New York City. He received a degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1895. His first job was at the Hyatt Rolling Bearing Company, a company whose chief product was billiard (pool) balls. By the time he was twenty-six, Sloan was the company's president. He revived the failing business by selling steel roller bearings, which were used to reduce friction in moving machine parts, to the growing automobile industry. When Sloan discovered that GM might begin manufacturing its own bearings, he made a deal with William C. Durant, who was then head of GM, to make Hyatt part of United Motors Corporation (a division of GM). By 1918 Sloan was a vice president at General Motors.

Two years later, the company's new director, Pierre Du Pont, put Sloan in charge of operations. Sloan became president in 1923, when Du Pont retired. Sloan would spend the next three decades introducing technological innovations, such as four-wheel drive, and a better way of running the company. He centralized the administrative functions of GM, especially its finances, and decentralized production. The company was divided into five divisions, each responsible for the production and marketing of a different line of cars. The lines were targeted to different markets, from the low-priced Chevrolets to the luxury Cadillacs.

During the 1920s GM doubled its production rate and increased sales dramatically, eventually passing industry leader Ford. Meanwhile, Sloan encouraged the man who had been in charge of GM's Buick division, Walter P. Chrysler, to strike out on his own. Before long Chrysler's company would become the third largest automobile manufacturer.

In 1937 Sloan became chair of GM's board of directors and the highest-paid executive in the United States. Like Henry Ford he resisted the efforts of the labor movement in the 1930s and 1940s to unionize GM workers. After the United Automobile Workers (UAW) staged a sitdown strike at GM's plants, Sloan was forced to recognize the union.

Sloan was well known for his generous contributions to charities. In the middle of the Great Depression he founded the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which would provide millions of dollars in grants for scientific and technological research. Sloan also funded the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York City. Sloan died on February 17, 1966, in New York City.

Although he was probably the most successful in capturing the imagination of the U.S. public, Ford was not the only automobile manufacturer on the scene. Between 1900 and 1930 there were more than two thousand such companies in business in the United States. Some of the best-known smaller companies include Packard, Nash, and Pierce-Arrow, all of which focused on making expensive, very high-quality cars that only the wealthy could afford. These manufacturers were overshadowed by the Big Three: the Ford Motor Company, General Motors (GM), founded in 1908 by William C. Durant and later run by Alfred P. Sloan (1875–1966), who made GM a thoroughly modern and very successful corporation, and Chrysler Corporation (under Walter P. Chrysler; 1875–1940). These companies accounted for 75 percent of car sales. This industry, which produced 4.2 million cars in 1926, would remain the nation's largest industry through the twentieth century.

Road improvements made

The large and ever-increasing number of cars and trucks on the roads of the United States led to concerns about the condition of those roads. In 1920 there were about 3 million miles (4,827,000 kilometers) of road in the nation, but only about 36,000 of those miles (57,924 kilometers) were paved. Most of the country's highways and byways were made of hard-packed dirt, as they had originally been built for horses. They were subject to all kinds of damage and obstacles, and they were not well-maintained. Help arrived in the form of the Federal Highway Act in 1921, which offered federal funds to states for the creation and maintenance of interstate highways. It was agreed that those running east to west would be labeled with even numbers, and those running north to south would be given odd numbers.

By 1929 more than 10,000 miles (16,090 kilometers) of road were being paved annually. It was now much easier for people to travel, and travel they did. A big increase in the rate and mode of family vacations led to the establishment of socalled "car camps," which served as early motels by offering bathroom facilities and tents for the use of weary travelers. Other businesses sprang up along popular routes, including roadside diners and gas stations.

Aviation gets off the ground

In 1903, when the Wright brothers made their famous flight, the public imagination was dazzled by the idea of soaring above the earth in a flying machine. Nevertheless, the aviation industry took some time to get off the ground. The entry of the United States into World War I provided a needed spark, as the U.S. military began for the first time to use airplanes in combat. But for a short period after the war, the only planes in the air were flown by pilots called "barnstormers." In exhibitions that were commonly known as "flying circuses," which often took place at country fairs, these men performed such daring feats as rolling their airplanes, flying upside down, and even walking on the wings. Many were flying old aircraft that had formerly been used by the military and that underwent no inspections. Pilots were not formally trained, and there were no regulations governing flight.

Airmail spurs development

A change came about with the introduction of airmail, a faster way to deliver mail than had ever been used before. The federal government began giving out airmail contracts to pilots, and in 1920 the U.S. Post Office established airmail service from New York to San Francisco, with stops at major cities along the way. By 1925 private airlines were being formed to carry both mail and passengers. Designers like Igor Sikorsky (1889–1972), who had immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1919, began turning out new and better aircraft.

Sikorsky developed a fourteen-passenger plane that was made of metal, not the usual wood, followed by his S37 and S38 models, the latter of which he sold to the new Pan Am airline. William Boeing (1881–1956) of Seattle, Washington, who had learned to fly in order to reach the more remote fishing spots of the Northwest, began producing the durable, effective 40A airplane in 1925. He went on to become the largest airplane manufacturer in the world, followed closely by Donald Douglas (1892–1981) and Anthony Fokker (1890–1939). By 1929, aviation had become a $200 million industry.

The first passenger flight took place on April 4, 1927, when Colonial Air Transport flew between Boston and New York. That same year, the first scheduled commercial flights began, and by 1929 airlines were offering cross-country passenger flights. Many aviation firsts and records were set during the 1920s. In 1925, for example, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Lieutenant James Doolittle (1896–1993) flew 233 miles (375 kilometers) per hour in a Curtiss R3C-2 airplane, breaking the world speed record. Three years later Amelia Earhart (1898–1937) became the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air (as a passenger); the same year, Earhart made the first round-trip solo flight from New York to Los Angeles and back.

Lindbergh's daring feat

The most famous aviation feat of the 1920s, however, and the one that most thrilled and captivated people around the world, was without doubt the one achieved by a twenty-five-year-old pilot from Minnesota. In 1919 New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig had offered $25,000 to the first pilot who succeeded in flying nonstop from New York to Paris, a distance of 3,500 miles (5,632 kilometers). For eight years no one succeeded, though six aviators lost their lives attempting the feat. In 1927 a new contender emerged: former barnstormer and airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974) believed he could make it with a special one-engine plane with adequate fuel capacity, if he flew alone and with minimal equipment to make the craft as light as possible.

Using his own money as well as a contribution from a group of businessmen from St. Louis, Missouri, Lindbergh arranged for San Diego's Ryan Airlines to build the airplane. The Spirit of St. Louis (named in honor of Lindbergh's benefactors) carried no radio or special instruments for night flying, no gas tank gauge, and no parachute. It did carry enough gas to get Lindbergh to his destination. He left New York's Roosevelt Island on May 20 and flew northeast over Nova Scotia, then Newfoundland. Early the next morning Lindbergh spotted the rocky coast of Ireland. He flew south from there toward France, landing in Paris at 10:22 p.m. after a thirty-three-and-a-half-hour flight. He was met by a wildly enthusiastic French crowd and carried off the landing field.

When he returned to the United States, Lindbergh was treated to a reception even more enthusiastic than the one he had received in France. The shy, modest pilot was honored by a parade through the streets of New York City, looking down on what seemed to him, as quoted in Erica Hanson's The 1920s, "oceans of friendly upturned faces." Lindbergh's journey had been followed with intense interest by U.S. citizens, and their joy and pride in his success could hardly be contained.

The Guggenheim Fund aids Goddard

The further development of aviation was helped along by a wealthy mining executive named David Guggenheim, who established the Guggenheim Fund as a source of money for research and development. The fund offered grants to university researchers, sponsored contests, and gave financial support to those working to make flight safer; one project resulted in the practice of flying by instruments, rather than just by sight, which led to greater safety on night flights or in conditions of low visibility.

One of the beneficiaries of the Guggenheim Fund was Robert H. Goddard (1882–1945), a physicist at Clark University in Massachusetts who had been conducting experiments on high-altitude rockets. He had created devices that mixed liquid hydrogen and gas in metal cylinders, which at first tended to explode before takeoff. Scorned by some of his fellow scientists, Goddard attracted the attention of Lindbergh, who persuaded the Guggenheim Fund to finance his work. Goddard's achievements in rocket research and development would later serve as the basis for the technology that took human beings into space beginning in the 1960s.

Radios become commonplace

In 1899 Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) had invented a technology called wireless telegraphy, which sent signals through space using the same dot-dash code used in the telegraph (which had been invented by Samuel Morse in

the 1840s). Several years later, when it became possible to send voices by this method, it was called wireless telephony. The U.S. military began using this technology, changing its name to radiotelephony, which was shortened in common U.S. usage to radio. The British, however, continued to call it "wireless" for many years.

During World War I, radio signals began to be sent and received using vacuum tubes that gave the transmissions more power and precision. Similar to light bulbs, vacuum tubes were replaced by the transistors used in today's radios. Around the United States, amateurs interested in this technology began to tinker with it in their homes, and a few experimental radio stations were set up in New York, New Jersey, California, and Michigan. But it was not until 1920 that the first commercial radio station was established, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

An engineer named Dr. Frank Conrad who worked for the Westinghouse company had been developing voice transmission equipment for use by the military. He became interested in ham, or home-based, radio and started communicating on his own with some like-minded friends. Conrad even played musical recordings over his radio, which attracted the attention of a local department store that began selling radios so that more people could hear Conrad's broadcasts. Sensing the marketing potential of radio, an executive at Westinghouse persuaded Conrad to set up a radio station in the company's plant. They applied to the federal government for something that did not yet exist, a broadcasting license, and were granted one by the Department of Commerce. The station was assigned the call sign KDKA, which was based on the system of call signs used for ships at sea.

Gradually more radio stations were established, so that by the end of 1922 more than five hundred were operating. This incredible growth led to the founding of a government agency, the Federal Radio Commission, to set up broadcasting rules and regulations. In 1922 about sixty thousand U.S. homes had radios. At the end of the decade, about twelve million families, or one-third of the total U.S. population, were reported to be listening to radios.

People were listening to news, live music, comedy shows, and programs that combined music, comedy, drama, and lectures. Sporting events such as boxing matches and baseball games were broadcast for the first time, creating instant and widespread fame for such figures as boxer Jack Dempsey (1895–1983) and baseball great Babe Ruth (1895–1948). Politicians, government officials—including President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29)—and religious leaders like Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944) were all using the airwaves to share their views with the public.

Motion pictures with sound and color

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the U.S. public warmly embraced silent movies and the actors who appeared in them, even though they could not hear those actors' voices and had to rely on subtitles to know what they were saying. Ever since the invention of the motion picture, various inventors, including Thomas Edison (1847–1931), had tried unsuccessfully to develop a way to incorporate music and speech into movies. Finally, with the backing of the Warner Brothers movie studio, engineers at Western Electric came up with a system called Vitaphone.

Warner Brothers soon introduced the first movie with sound, Don Juan (1926); this was not, however, a full-length movie, and it featured only synchronized music and sound effects, not voices. The next year, Warner Brothers released the first full-length movie with synchronized dialog as well as music and singing. The Jazz Singer, starring well-known stage actor and singer Al Jolson (1886–1950), was hugely successful with the public and is still considered a milestone in motion picture technology. The only people made unhappy by the new technology were the silent screen actors whose voices or accents were considered unsuitable for what were called "the talkies."

The motion picture industry now began an ascent toward what is commonly referred to as the "golden age" of movies, the 1930s and 1940s. Walt Disney (1901–1966) made his first sound cartoon in 1928, the same year that Fox Studios released In Old Arizona, the first sound western. By the end of the decade, all the major studios, including Paramount, M-G-M, and Universal, had abandoned silent movies. The 1920s also saw the advent of color film in movies: the first full-length color movie, The Toll of the Sea, appeared in 1922; the second and third, Wanderer of the Wasteland and The Black Pirate, with screen idol Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939), were released in 1924 and 1926. It would be about another ten years, though, before movies in color completely replaced black-and-white films.

During the 1920s researchers were also working on ways to transmit pictures through space; in other words, television was in its infancy. Efforts in the late 1920s by Bell Laboratories, General Electric, and NBC were interesting but not fully successful. In 1924, however, Russian immigrant Vladimir Zworykin (1889–1982) had patented a device called a kinescope, which used a glass tube to send a signal made up of black dots that formed a picture. This would form the basis of the technology that, several decades later, would evolve into television.

Scientific discoveries cause excitement and unease

Some of the uncertainty that many felt about the changes taking place during the 1920s might be linked to the groundbreaking discoveries that scientists were making during this period. One of the most unsettling had to do with the nature of the universe itself. In 1912 an astronomer named Vesto M. Slipher had been studying a nebula, then thought to consist of patches of gas that gave off light, at an Arizona observatory. He decided that nebulae were actually clusters of stars that made up complete galaxies, like the Milky Way of which Earth and its solar system are a part.

From Hubble to Mead: groundbreaking research

During the 1920s astrophysicist Edwin Hubble (1889–1953) was at the Mt. Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California, studying the Andromeda nebula. Like Slipher, he believed that nebulae were collections of stars and possibly even entire galaxies. His calculations of Andromeda's great distance from Earth led him to the conclusion that this was, indeed, a separate galaxy. Further, he found that galaxies are constantly moving away from each other, which led him to conclude that the universe is expanding or even exploding. Hubble's research provided the basis for the later work of French scientist Georges Lemaître (1894–1966), who, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, would propose the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Some people were disturbed or unconvinced by the notion that the universe was expanding, especially those who relied more on religion than science to explain the world around them. Similar challenges to traditional beliefs came in a realm closer to Earth, through the work of anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901–1978). As a graduate student, Mead had studied with and been influenced by the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas (1858–1942). Boas sought to replace racist assumptions, such as the idea that some forms of humanity are genetically superior to others, with the concept that the environment in which people develop is much more important than the genes they inherit.

Mead conducted her own research in the Pacific Island nation of Samoa, where she observed and interviewed fifty adolescent females. She found that in contrast to U.S. culture, Samoans considered their teenaged years a calm, happy period, not one full of intense emotion and conflict. In Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Mead concluded that the experience of adolescence was shaped by culture, not biology. Her book was considered an important and influential work for decades, though recent critics have questioned the validity of her conclusions.

Medical advances improve lives

Developments in the field of medicine that occurred or began in the 1920s would help to make life safer and more comfortable for the vast majority of people, especially in the generally prosperous United States. One change had to do with the role of the doctor, who had previously not been able to offer his patients much more than comfort and common-sense guidance. Advances in both science and education gave physicians more effectiveness and more status, as well as a less personal, more professional relationship with their patients.

Soon after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote, reformers persuaded Congress to approve the Sheppard-Towner Act (1921). This law guaranteed federal funding to states to set up and run prenatal (before birth) and children's health centers. These centers would allow medical professionals to offer education and assistance designed to bring down high maternal and infant mortality rates (deaths of mothers and babies during or soon after birth). The Sheppard-Towner Act was opposed by some, especially the American Medical Association, an organization of doctors who feared competition from the free clinics, and the federal funds were withdrawn at the end of the decade.

Another important women's health issue was that of birth control. The use of contraceptives, and even the spreading of information about them, was illegal in some states and not much talked about anywhere in the United States. Determined to win for women the independence and freedom of choice afforded by the ability to avoid pregnancy, Margaret Sanger (1883–1966) and other reformers worked to overcome laws against the use and knowledge of contraceptives. In the course of her efforts, Sanger was jailed many times, but she persisted in promoting the use of birth control, especially among the working- and lower-class women she felt had the most to gain.

Great strides were also made during the 1920s in research on nutrition, as scientists discovered the existence of vitamins A, B, D, and E and laid the groundwork for the later discovery of vitamin C. They also made progress on cures, tests, or immunizations for pellagra (a disease caused by a lack of certain vitamins), pernicious anemia (caused by a shortage of red blood cells), and scarlet fever (a contagious disease that causes a red rash). The use of insulin to treat diabetes also dates to the 1920s. In 1928 British physician Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) discovered that mold called penicillin notatum had the ability to kill disease-causing bacteria. This discovery opened the way for the continuing research that would, during the 1940s, make penicillin available for general use as a drug.

Technology enters the home

Technological developments in the form of automobiles, airplanes, and medicine obviously affected the lives of many people, but what had an even more immediate effect were new devices meant to be used inside the home. Most basic, of course, were electricity and indoor plumbing, which brought light, warmth, better hygiene, and general comfort and convenience to more people in the 1920s than ever before. For example, only 34.7 percent of U.S. homes had electricity in 1920, but by 1930 the number had risen to 67.9 percent overall and to 84.8 percent of homes found in cities. Similarly, about 70 percent of homes had indoor plumbing by the end of the decade.

Middle-class families of the 1920s enjoyed an exciting new array of laborsaving devices, which helped them adapt

to the shortage of people looking for work as domestic servants. (The shortage was due to better-paying jobs for unskilled workers in factories.) These devices included the vacuum cleaner, which eliminated the need to manually beat dust and dirt out of carpets and rugs, and washing machines, which made it easier to clean clothes, a process that had previously involved hauling water from wells and wringing out wet garments by hand. The electric iron was easier to use than the old, heavy iron that had to be heated in an oven, and it worked better. The electric refrigerator kept food fresh and cut down on the need for frequent shopping or store deliveries. Despite these conveniences, however, homemakers still put much time and effort into their domestic duties.

Telephones were already in use when the 1920s began, but the technology by which they worked improved during the decade. The 1920s saw the establishment of the first automated switching offices, which created the new occupation of telephone operator, a position available to the women who were now entering the workforce in greater numbers, and the first telephone cable to be placed on the ocean floor (between Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba). The first telephones had featured separate pieces holding the transmitter and the receiver, but in 1926 these were combined within the same handset.

For the most part, these new conveniences were available only to those who could afford them, which did not include most working- or lower-class families. For example, the price of a washing machine ranged between $60 and $200, while a typical factory worker might make only $100 a month. A wide range of people did benefit from the expanded availability of electricity, running water, and natural gas. In many rural homes, however, even these basic technologies were not available: by 1930, only 10 percent of farmhouses had electricity, and only 33 percent had indoor plumbing. Farm families would have to wait until the 1930s and 1940s for these services to arrive.

For More Information


Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. New York: Perennial, 1964.

Berg, Scott. Lindbergh. New York: Putnam, 1998.

Burlingame, Roger. Henry Ford: A Great Life in Brief. New York: Knopf, 1969.

Chesler, Ellen. Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Douglas, Susan J. Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899–1902. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Fisher, Jim. The Lindbergh Case. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Gwynn-Jones, Terry. Farther and Faster: Aviation's Adventuring Years, 1909–1939. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Hanson, Erica. The 1920s. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1999.

Howard, Jane. Margaret Mead: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.

Kennedy, David M. Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970.

Kent, Zachary. Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis in American History. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2001.

Lynd, Robert S., and Helen M. Lynd. Middletown. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929.

Miller, Nathan. New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America. New York: Scribner, 2003.

Perret, Geoffrey. America in the Twenties. New York: Touchstone, 1982.

Walker, Alexander. The Shattered Silents: How the Talkies Came to Stay. London: Elm Tree Books, 1978.

Web Sites

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Clash of Cultures in the 1910s and 1920s. Available online at Accessed on June 17, 2005.

Flaherty, Tarraugh. "Margaret Mead: 1901–1978." Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society. Available online at Accessed on June 17, 2005.

"Henry Ford, 1863–1947." A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. Available online at Accessed on June 17, 2005.

Interpreting Primary Sources. Digital History. Available online at Accessed on June 17, 2005.

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Technology Changes Daily Life

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Technology Changes Daily Life