Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain

By David E. Kyvig | Go to book overview
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Electricity and the Conditions of Daily Life

Electric current, generated and controlled for human use, was not a new phenomenon by the 1920s, but, as with the automobile, in that decade it first came to be used by a multitude of people. In the 1920s, electricity started to influence the daily lives of Americans far more than it ever had before. Whereas in previous decades electric current had begun to provide large-scale power for urban street lighting, public transit, elevators, and substantial machinery, post–World War I society experienced the introduction of more and more applications suited to the personal lives of individuals and available to a mass market. Furthermore, while automobiles served to bring residents of town and countryside closer together during the 1920s, electricity and its applications managed further to distinguish everyday life in electrified urban America from that in the largely electricity-less countryside. A small minority of urban dwellers remained without electricity, but the vast majority enjoyed its benefits; the opposite was true in rural America.


LIFE WITHOUT ELECTRICITY

Pre-electric Life

Electrified life not only had a different look than preelectric life, it also had a different rhythm, feel, and even aroma. Outside the domain of electricity, where natural sunlight, wood and coal fires, candles, and in recent decades kerosene and natural gas were the available light sources, there was, according to David E. Nye in Electrifying America, 1880–1940, “less light

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