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A Century Ago - The World and Fashion in 1924


1924 was the year the 20’s really began to roar. The American economy had been growing since 1921 with widespread prosperity driven by a boom in construction and the manufacturing of consumer goods. But, after a long postwar recovery, many other nations were now also finally experiencing a boom in 1924. Even Germany, which had been suffering under reparation debt repayments and out-of-control inflation began to curtail its economic problems with the introduction of a new currency.


Under its first labour government, Britain opened the Empire Exhibition to showcase the cultures, wares, and achievements of the various nations that were part of the British Empire. Originally planned before the Great War, the exhibition was created to stimulate trade and strengthen bonds. However, the Great War had diminished Britain’s position, and the idea of empire was being supplanted by the more modern notion of a Commonwealth. The Empire Exhibition closed in 1925, in debt.  


In Russia, St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad after the death of Vladimir Lenin. Joseph Stalin came to power and the U.S.S.R. began to be recognized by other nations including Britain, Canada, and Sweden.

 

In the United States, Calvin Coolidge won a landslide re-election on a platform of less taxes, regulations, government, and immigrants. Ellis Island was closed after the Immigration act of 1924, sharply cutting the number of immigrants entering the country. The slur ‘wetback’ was coined, referring to illegal Mexican immigrants who came into the U.S. by crossing the Rio Grande river. Twenty-nine year old J. Edgar Hoover was appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigations, later known as the FBI. He retained that job until his death in 1972.

 

The American Indian Wars officially came to an end with the last Apache raid of horses from settlers in Arizona. Nationally, the Indian Citizenship Act allowed for Native Americans to receive American citizenship without having to give up their tribal citizenship.

 

The First Macy’s Day Parade was held in New York and the first winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France. The summer games in Paris featured British runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell who won the 100 and 400 m running events (their stories were depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire), and Johnny Weissmuller, probably better remembered as the actor who played Tarzan, won three gold medals in swimming and set the 100-meter world freestyle swimming record at 57.4 seconds. In Canada, the National Hockey League expanded into the U.S. with the addition of the Boston Bruins.



The California population of grizzly bears became extinct and an outbreak of Hoof-and-Mouth disease in California resulted in the destruction of 109,000 farm animals, and 22,000 deer.

 

Edwin Hubble concluded we were not alone when he realized the Milky Way was not the only galaxy in the universe after determining the Andromeda Nebula was also a galaxy.



Closer to home, two planes completed the first Round-the-World flight in 175 days, and regular airmail service began in the United States. Sadly, another aerial first was the first passenger airline crash that occurred after takeoff from London’s Croydon Airport – all eight passengers died. On the ground, the first diesel electric locomotive entered service; the Mercedes Benz company was formed, and Ford made its 10 millionth vehicle in 1924.



American newspaper headlines reported on the shocking Leopold and Loeb murder case – two teens men who had murdered a younger cousin for sport, to see if they could get away with it. Away from the headlines, those same newspapers printed crossword puzzles, which were becoming popular; the first Little Orphan Annie comic strip was first published in the New York Daily News.


Top books of 1924 include: Passage to India by E.M. Forster; The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie; When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne, and The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. Robert Frost won the Pulitzer prize for his poetry collection New Hampshire.


In Fine Art, Surrealism was defined by the Surrealist Manifesto, published in October, 1924. In Hollywood, Metro Goldwyn Mayer was founded, and the year’s top films included: Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr.; Zazu Pits in Greed; Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad; and Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped.


Joan Miro, The Tilled Field, 1924


George Gershwin’s Broadway hit musical Lady Be Good included the song Fascinating Rhythm. Other top songs for 1924 include: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; Isham Jones’ It Had to Be You; Al Jolson’s California Here I Come; Ted Weems’ Somebody Stole My Gal; and, Paul Whiteman’s Somebody Loves Me, and What’ll I do. Another song was first printed that the Guinness Book of World Records calls the most popular song in the English language – Happy Birthday to You.

 

A new dance craze was also emerging called the Charleston, but if you didn’t like ‘Hot’ jazz, you could listen instead to some ‘rootin’ tootin’’ ‘Hillbilly music’, as early country/bluegrass was called at the time.  

 

Clarence Birdseye perfected his flash-freezing method for preserving food; his first product was Haddock filets. 1924's trendy recipe of the year was Pineapple Upside-down cake, and the first Caeser salad was created by Cesar Cardini at his Tijuana Mexico restaurant, although it didn’t become well known until the 1950s.


New words for 1924 included: 'Spanadry' (a scarcity of men) due to the Great War, and if you excluded ‘lugs’ (dumb guys) and ‘queens’ (gays), there were even fewer who were marriageable.  A married man might ‘two-time’ his ‘old bag’ and go ‘all the way’ with a 'sexpert' like a ‘hustler’ or ‘Scarlet woman’.

 

A ‘small potatoes’ (insignificant) actor who was studying the “Stanislavsky method’ might ‘stink’ by ‘flubbing’ their lines, but a ‘show-off’ might be a ‘crowd-pleaser’ and really ‘wow’ their audience. If your ‘jalopy’ was in a ‘hit and run’ accident by a ‘yellow-bellied’ (cowardly) scofflaw (one who disregards the law), you could ‘rent-a-car’, and take it to the ‘gas station’ and ‘carwash’. You could then ‘ring up’ (call) your ‘bosom buddy’ to ask if they wanted to go play ‘Bingo’, but it could be a ‘pain in the neck’ If they said ‘Uh-uh’ (inarticulate negative) or made up some ‘malarkey’ (lie), about why they can’t...


A woman might have her hair ‘shingled’ at the ‘Beautician’ and then go shopping to buy a ‘teddy’, some ‘toiletries’ and ‘Kleenex’ for herself and a pair of ‘sweat-pants’ and an ‘anorak’ for her ‘outdoorsman’ boyfriend.


In 1924 fashion, the National Retail Dry Goods Association of America changed the name of artificial silk (wood pulp based fibre patented in 1884) to ‘rayon’, after ray – a beam of light because it's shiny. The other name considered was 'Glos'. The production of rayon in the U.S. exploded from eight million pounds in 1920 to over fifty million pounds in 1924. The biggest reason for this was because as the hems of skirts rose, the ankle came into focus, and flesh-coloured rayon stockings, which were more affordable than silk, became the standard for most women.



 

 

 

 

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