Sunday, August 9, 2015

Before the crash -- 1927 (Part 1)

The Model "A" Ford
Smack-dab between Indiana's most infamous era and the world's most disastrous decade ... is a year that is largely forgotten for the simple reason that it actually worked.


Gerald Leinwand liked that year so much that he wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE FOR THAT

While rural Americans struggled with a depression that had seen no real beginning and offered no real hope for ending, the rest of the country was enjoying the high life.

At least all that glittered appeared to be golden.

"Not since the close of the World War has there been a year which produced such an amazing crop of big news as 1927," wrote Herbert Asbury.


Silent Cal Coolidge was governing from the White House in much the same way as had the man he replaced, Warren G. Harding.

Harding, a Republican, had died in office after being elected on a platform of essentially letting the country manage its own affairs. "Normalcy," he called it.

Meanwhile, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees were off to the races, and Charles A. Lindbergh was off to Paris. Lindbergh got there first because he was in an airplane.

Babe hit 60 HR in 1927
The Yankees went by train.

Much of life centered around New York, thanks in part to the burgeoning celebrity life popularized in print and on the new expanding world of radio.

In Hollywood, the movie industry was never happier and screen stars roared into a world larger than life. America was enthralled.

The New York Times boasted "prosperous with all confidence ... to 1927."

There were warning signals, to be sure, but the average Wall Street investor saw nothing on the horizon that suggested failure. Buy low, sell high ... everything is coming up roses.

The numbing numbers told a story that the elite scarcely considered, according to Leinwand in his book.

Citing the data from a Yale economist, "eight in 10 people earned little more than what they needed to live."

Put another way, national economists estimated "a worker's family of five required a minimum of $1,880 a year while an office worker's family of the same size required $2,119." (It's not clear what constituted the distinction other than cost of living relative to environment.)

But ... the baseline set by the Department of Labor was $2,330 ... "as a bottom level which a family cannot go below without danger of physical and moral deterioration."

So, Leinwand concludes: Despite the appearance of wondrous prosperity, most Americans were walking a razor's edge.

Other experts warned of "fading prosperity," though it's unlikely anybody on Wall Street was inclined to care about that.

Prices were too high for many and wages were too low. Farmers were still suffering.

Flapper styles
But Mae West, Duke Ellington and Al Capone were making headlines and flappers, world peace and national highways were all the rage.

Morality was changing as the raucous appeal of Hollywood and the speak-easy emerge, though it's doubtful that played a major role in the lives of folks in the Whitewater Valley. Immigrants were coming to the U.S. despite attempts by the Ku Klux Klan to discriminate against them.

More people were getting divorced.

Writes Leinwand:

"As never before, the 118 million people who live in America in 1927 were bombarded by the bewildering possibilities of the airplane, the motion picture, the telephone, radio and, above all, the automobile."

Nearly one in five Americans owned a car by 1928.

As travel improved, so did the introduction of the filling station, the highway lodges and the tourist attractions. You could get your kicks on Route 66.

So many models to choose from. "Where can you find so much for $750!" boasted one Chrysler advertisement.

The Ford Model "A" became the every-man car that didn't even need to be cranked to start. It also had a speedometer.

Not that it mattered. More than 21,000 people died in automobile crashes.

What else could wrong? For many, not much.




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