What was life like when the 1920 census was being conducted?
Well, life expectancy was about 53 years — pretty good for those times, since it represented an increase of 13% from 20 years earlier. Americans had more leisure time and more money than previous generations, and they took advantage of the entertainment available — movies, amusement parks, dance halls, skating rinks.
In fact, entertainment took great leaps forward in the 1920s.
In 1925 the first working television was developed, though it would be a few decades before every home had a TV. 1927 saw the release of The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie” movie. Silent films were on their way out and would be completely replaced by sound films in less than ten years.
If your ancestors liked to read books they may have been among the first to read these newly-released titles in the 1920s: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Babbit by Sinclair Lewis, or The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh attained national hero status by becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop from New York to Paris. That same year Babe Ruth became the first baseball player to hit 60 home runs in one season.
Of course, at the time of the 1920 census, the U.S. and the world had recently suffered two major tragedies — World War I (which at that time was simply called “The Great War”), and the flu pandemic of 1918-1919. Both of these took millions of lives around the world.
An estimated 675,000 people died in the US as a result of the flu pandemic, and about 117,000 lost their lives in the war. That was relatively few compared to the worldwide totals, and it did not have a big effect on the U.S. population, which grew from 106.5 million in 1920 to 123 million in 1930, according to the census reports.
Overseas, events were taking place that would have a profound impact on the United States during the twentieth century — events that would set the stage for World War II and the Cold War.
First, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 led to the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922. Then. in 1923 the economic crisis in Germany and the hyperinflation of its currency caused much unrest there. The recently formed National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazi party), led by Adolph Hitler, attempted a failed coup against the government. Hitler was jailed for a year, during which he wrote Mein Kampf, a book that became influential to the Nazi movement.
Even with all the turmoil going on around the world, life for people who were counted in the U.S. 1920 census was pretty exciting. The 1920s was the decade of flappers, fancy cars, gangsters, prohibition, speakeasies, jazz, and the advent of all sorts of gadgets and technology for the home — hence the term The Roaring Twenties. What a time for your ancestors to live in!