America in the 20th Century - Vol. 2

America in the 20th Century - Vol. 2

America in the 20th Century - Vol. 2

America in the 20th Century - Vol. 2


Copiously illustrated with period photographs, prints, and historic documents to appeal to students from sixth grade through high school, these volumes provide a decade-by-decade overview of American history in the 20th century, with a focus on social issues. Attention is paid to developments in politics, business, technology, and people's lives at home and at work; short biographies of leading figures are included. Two of the volumes contain primary sources, also grouped by decade; documents are followed by discussion and short lists of questions. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


The second decade of the twentieth century was to be an era many Americans would refer to fondly as “the good old days.” It held the glowing promise that each and every man—farmer, clerk’s son, or new immigrant—could write his own rags-to-riches story providing lie was prepared to sacrifice, work hard, and save. Most Americans bought that dream and worked hard to achieve it, so that the majority of people were starting to make financial gains. By 1910, America had developed into a country with a distinct and powerful middle class—one that seemed to radiate a kind of wholesome happiness even as it strove for upward mobility or an opportunity to compete with the wealthy elite who formed America’s upper crust.

“Whether they will or
no, Americans must
begin to look outward.
The growing productivity
of the country
demands it.”

Admiral Alfred Thayer
Mahan contemplating
foreign expansion and
industrial growth in the
early 1900s

The Simple Life of the
Good Old Days

Popular Saturday Evening Post illustrator Norman Rockwell captured America’s middle class perfectly —the contented family in a small town, Victorian home headed by a mother and father. Grandfather or grandmother probably lived nearby; certainly they lived close enough to visit on holidays. Young couples courted on porch swings and made wedding plans, secure in the knowledge that their lives offered promise and possible wealth. This was a time of idealism, if the art and literature of 1910 were to be taken at face value. But life wasn’t so grand for everyone, and Americans weren’t quite as simple or near-sighted as the country’s wordsmiths and painters portrayed them.

By 1910, most Americans, even middle-class Americans, looked beyond the front stoop and saw that industrialization and urbanization had created a new set of problems, such as crowded cities, inadequate sanitation, new pockets of poverty, and health problems among urban dwellers. Plus, they worried about the country’s leadership. So, in 1910, when these townspeople gathered at their picnics and socials, they may have speculated about who would be running against President Taft in the next election, or debated over the value of allowing unions to organize at the local textile mill or factory. They might well have been concerned about the growing problem of the urban poor.

For, with the building of factories, textile mills, and small businesses, towns had grown into cities, and cities had doubled and tripled in size. One aspiring writer of the era, Sherwood Anderson, depicted this mass migration from farms to cities as . . .

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