Long before the 1920s, the industrial age had delivered innovations that would revolutionize modern life—the automobile, airplane, radio, telephone, and motion pictures among them. But not until the Twenties with the standardization and commercialization of these "machine age" icons did they become standard fare in American life and define "modern" for the masses. A luxury item in 1918, the AUTOMOBILE by 1930 dominated the roads and placed traffic management at the top of city planners' priority lists. The RADIO went from a military-industrial communications system to a household necessity after commercial radio broadcasting began in 1920. The AIRPLANE in 1918 was an entertainment spectacle and wartime phenomenon for Americans; by 1930 they could receive "air mail" delivery, travel on commercial airlines, and fly their own Ford "air flivvers." And Henry Ford one-upped himself in 1927 with the new Model A Ford, assembled in his huge new River Rouge plant in Detroit that redefined "factory" for a new age. In this Theme we place ourselves amidst the awe, dazzle, and debates of the 1920s "Machine Age."
- How did "machine age" innovations change American life in the Twenties?
- How did fans and critics of the changes, including artists, express their views?
- What longterm effects on American society did they predict from the innovations? To what extent were they accurate?
- How does their commentary resemble 21st-century discussion about technological innovation and social change, e.g., the Internet, social networking, robotics, nanotechnology, informatics, and more?
Sections in MACHINE
Each section presents primary resources, introductory notes, classroom discussion questions, and supplemental links.
- "Machine Age"
- - Collected commentary, 1920-1930
- - Charles Demuth, My Egypt, oil on fiberboard, 1927
- - Charles Sheeler, industrial landscapes, 1927-1932
- - Ford River Rouge industrial complex, Detroit, photographs, 1927
- - American Landscape, oil on canvas, 1930
- - Classic Landscape, oil on canvas, 1931
- - River Rouge Plant, oil on canvas, 1932
- - Silent films by Ford Motor Company, ca. 1932
- - A Tour thru the Rouge Plants
- - The Source of the Ford Car
- - Collected commentary, 1920-1932
- - Will Rogers, humorist, on traffic safety
- - Syndicated column, April 4, 1926
- - Address to traffic chiefs, sound recording, June 2, 1923 (with transcript)
- - Silent film: Wheels of Progress, U.S. Bureau of Roads, ca. 1927 (with intertitles text)
- - Newsreels (silent)
- - "Motorists try brakes for police department," 1927
- - "Had your automobile brakes tested yet?" 1928
- - "Has Aviation a Future," The Forum, August 1928, excerpts
- - The "Aeroplane" in Art
- - Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Aeroplane Synchromy in Yellow-Orange, oil on canvas, 1920
- - Elsie Driggs, Aeroplane, oil on canvas, 1928
- - Newsreels on aviation innovations, 1923-1930 (silent/sound, 7)
- - On the "phenomenon of Lindbergh," by Fitzhugh Green, in Lindbergh, "We," 1927
- - Lindbergh-inspired animated cartoons
- - Felix the Cat, The Non-Stop Fright, 1927 (silent)
- - Mickey Mouse, Plane Crazy, 1928 (sound)
- - Collected commentary on the value of the radio, 1920-1931
- - WLS Chicago Showboat, the "Floating Palace of Wonder," variety program, broadcast, ca. 1926, audio & transcript
- - Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct, 1933, Ch. 10, "Schemes of Life," excerpts
- - Monta Bell, "Movies & Talkies," The North American Review, October 1928
- - From Silent to Sound in twenty-two minutes
Live-action films (scenes)
- - Silent: La Bohème, 1926
- - Sound: Show Girl in Hollywood, 1930
- - Silent: Felix in Hollywood, Felix the Cat, 1923
- - Sound: Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse, 1928
Image: Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, oil on canvas, 1930. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 166.1934. Reproduced by permission.