Following the devastation of The Great War the previous decade, the ‘roaring twenties’ were a time of rebuilding and speculation. Civil war continued across the world, nations broke free into independence, and powerful world leaders began taking the stage. As the economy collapsed at the decade’s end, another world war was soon to come. Here are 7 historical events that took place in the 1920s.
The League of Nations formed (January 1920)
Following the First World War, a major global effort was made to prevent anything like it from ever happening again. Founded by the Paris Peace Conference that arose from the end of the war, the League of Nations was the first of its kind: an international organization devoted to peace. It fought against warfare and other human rights concerns, but it lacked credibility by the absence of the United States, and the late joining of the Soviet Union, who were thrown out shortly after they invaded Finland. As the Second World War broke out in 1939, it was all but done but limped on until 1946. Though it failed in its main goal, its idea persisted, and as it ceased it was replaced by the United Nations, which we still have to this day.
Adolf Hitler becomes the leader of the Nazi Party (July 1921)
Heavily decorated during the First World War, Adolf Hitler was formally discharged from the army in 1920, and turned his attention to politics shortly after, becoming leader of the party in late July 1921. Two years later, the failed Beer Hall Putsch ended in failure and put him in jail, but upon his release shortly after, the Nazi Party (and Hitler himself) was suddenly more popular than ever. He published ‘Mein Kampf’ in 1925, and over the eight years brought his party to ultimate power, becoming dictator of the country in 1933. Elsewhere during the 1920s, the other major antagonists of the Second World War all shuffled into place: in 1922, Benito Mussolini completed his March on Rome and took power in Italy, and in 1926 Hirohito became Emperor of Japan.
The end of the Russian Civil War (June 1922)
Despite seizing power from the provincial government and lopping off the heads of the Royal Family in 1918, the Bolsheviks (‘Reds’) and Monarchists (‘Whites’, supported by the UK, USA, France, and others) were still fighting for years. The October Revolution that put Lenin’s party in power was not welcomed by all, and strong resistance stood to keep things the way they’d been. Everyone in the country was dragged into the conflict, with around eight million dying in five years, as the Bolsheviks finally ground out a victory. In December of that year, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed, and the world’s first communist state had officially arrived. Lenin’s death in early 1924 triggered a struggle for power that would almost tear the new state apart.
The rise of Stalin (1924 – 1929)
Already General Secretary of the Bolshevik Party since 1922, Joseph Stalin wielded significant power in the Soviet Union even before Lenin’s death. But after, the party fragmented as various factions rallied behind who they thought was the best successor. Stalin allied himself with one side, while destroying the other, all while building support for himself with a cult of personality around the deceased Lenin. By 1927, Trotsky, who had commanded the Red Army during the civil war, had been ousted and sent into exile, and Stalin consolidated his power by turning on his allies and eliminating them as well. By 1929, all the major players from 1924 were either in exile, in gulags, or had been assassinated, and he was free to dominate the party, and the country, until he died in 1953.
Alexander Flemings discovers penicillin (September 1928)
Already a successful microbiologist, in September 1928, Alexander Fleming made his greatest discovery quite by accident. He returned to his laboratory to check on some culture plates containing inoculated staphylococci, noticing one was contaminated with mold. The area around the mold, however, much to his surprise, was clear. Calling this strain ‘penicillin’, he and his assistants began tests, continued elsewhere that revolutionized the world of medicine forever. It would go on to be described as the single greatest ever achieved over disease and would help Fleming land the Noble Prize in 1945, and is considered the dawn of the antibiotic age.
The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre (February 1929)
At the height of the Prohibition Era USA, which began at the dawn of the 1920s, saw the country riddled with gang crime. Kingpins like Al Capone made the papers, and rival gangs battled for dominance of bootlegging networks, often leading to shootouts and organized crime. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre is exactly how it sounds: a bloody shootout leading to the murders of seven men. All members of Chicago’s North Side Gang, Capone organized the hit on his last big rival from afar, having his men trick his rival’s associates into making a deal before others arrived disguised in police uniforms. Pretending to arrest them, they then lined the men up against a wall and killed them. It was arguably the most infamous gang crime in American history, and though Al Capone would be arrested for tax evasion a few years later, the killers would never be caught.
The Great Depression Begins (October 1929)
The Wall Street Crash in the Autumn of 1929 began the decade-long period of depression that rocked economies worldwide. Though stock prices began dropping from the 4th of September (the London Stock Exchange had already crashed that month), it was the 29th of October, known as Black Tuesday, when billions of dollars were lost, and shares were traded wildly as the market crashed. It became the worst economic downturn in industrial history and was followed by the closures of banks and businesses, soaring unemployment rates, and dropping production rates. Though felt worldwide, in the US, the country’s GDP dropped by almost 50% and unemployment by 30%. Although some recovered quicker, the Great Depression would finally come to an end as the world remobilized for World War Two, and production was given a kick start.
If you enjoyed this article on the 1920s, you should check out our Centuries Articles!