Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940 was written by David E. Kyvig in 2002 and revised again in 2004. This historical novel documents the transformation America went through during the 1920’s – 40’s. Kyvig addresses numerous events that contributed to the rise and fall of America. The book was written to inform citizens and non-citizens of the industrial, economic, and cultural changes that took place in America. Kyvig establishes stepping stones to America and pieced the book together with contents that range from “Life’s Basics” to “Conflict, Crime, to Catastrophe” in the states.
Kyvig supports his topics with specific events such as the birth of the automobile, the welcoming of women into the political world, and the mass numbers of immigration that flourished the country. He goes in depth on how automobiles changed Americas take on life inside and out of factories and states that, “In 1920 barely one household in three possessed a car, though this represented a dramatic increase from one in thirteen at the outset of World War I. Automobile ownership tripled during the 1920s, and by decade’s end four families in five owned one” (Kyvig p. 7). He recognizes and promotes the welcoming of women into the political world to surge democracy and better the economy as stated in the text, “The establishment of national prohibition and woman suffrage at the very outset of the 1920s created a strong sense that the new decade marked a fresh beginning for American society” (Kyvig p. 6). He also speaks of the multitudes of immigrants that flourished the country and characterized the states to be a “Melting Pot” of cultures.
All of these components helped to create the American Dream that each and every citizen strives to attain. Kyvig does a spectacular job in educating his audience in events like these and many more throughout the book. In the first chapter of the book, titled “The Circumstances of Life in 1920”, Kyvig writes about the transition from an agricultural world to a more industrialized world. The leap from farms to the city was a very harsh adjustment for many Americans because it transformed a way of living.
The South was suffering agriculturally in result of the booming city life and factory work that people sought to obtain in the North. The desertion of farm life was unfortunate as stated in the book, “Overall growth of the rural as well as urban population during the 1920s concealed the abandonment of farm life by many families. Nevertheless, farm households as a percentage of the nation’s total fell from 28 to 22 percent over the course of the decade” (Kyvig p. 16). The abolishment of slavery did not help the farms either.
The slaves knew the in’s and out’s when it came to running a farm. Many freed slaves, who remained in the South, fell back to tenants, rented pieces of land used for housing and farming. A primary source was used in this chapter to show what a tenant looks like. The one in the book is titled Tenant farmer’s cabin located in Harmony, Georgia found in National Archives. The picture illustrates a shack like house that an African American family is living in. The picture shows them all smiling and enjoying a relaxing day without work on the front porch.
Kyvig was very specific in each photo he chose to incorporate into the book as primary sources for his readers. They all match the text perfectly. Each chapter contains some kind of statistic or number representing a populous or price. The first chapter uses numbers to influence the reader. For example, “Half the nation’s farms were located in the South—but the region contained two-thirds of the country’s 2. 5 million tenant farms” (Kyvig p. 14). Kyvig found this statistic and many others in the U. S.
Bureau of Census, Historical Statistics of the United States Colonial Times to 1957. This is a great example of how Kyvig used primary sources and legitimized his writing by doing so. The book’s message is also relayed in many informative texts, articles, and websites both past and present. A website titled “Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908” is very informative and generates the same thesis and idea that Kyvig wrote in his book. Quoting the website, “The Model T made its debut in 1908 with a purchase price of $825. 0. Over ten thousand were sold in its first year, establishing a new record. Four years later the price dropped to $575. 00 and sales soared. By 1914, Ford could claim a 48% share of the automobile market” (Sorensen). Quoting the book, “An unprecedented ten thousand of Ford’s new car, the twenty-horsepower Model T, sold in the next year at $825. To reach the mass audience he sought, Ford quickly began seeking ways to reduce the Model T’s price” (Kyvig p. 29). These two quotes are almost exactly the same.
They reveal the same information just in a different style. Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940 is one of many books to discuss America’s rise and fall. There are hundreds of books written about this noteworthy era America lived through, all written with the same statistics and names. Each text contrasts from one another through the writer and their personal preferences. For example, if the writer was a woman it can be speculated that she would mainly write about women’s suffrage and how women impacted the 1920s to 40s.
David E. Kyvig did an exceptional job in covering as many topics as he could. However, certain topics were covered in far more detail than other related topics. For example, I felt that the Ku Klux Klan was mentioned far more than the U. S. military. This bothered me because the military represents our country as a whole. Men and women that are putting their lives on the line for the country should be recognized just as much as groups that believe in certain ideals that are not practiced throughout the rest of the nation.
In Kyvig’s defense, I believe he was writing less about war and more about what culturally defined the 1920s-40s. Kyvig positions his writings to favor a middle and lower class audience. These classes defined this era and Kyvig angled his opinions to suit their beliefs and lifestyles over the upper class of this era. Immigrants populated most of the country and most immigrants were hard-working middle and lower class citizens, who worked in factories and sales.
Kyvig goes into great detail on how America revolved around the middle and lower classes. The country’s survival revolves around these classes in many ways. For example, the automobile, the telephone, movie theatres, the radio, etc. were all marketed in the 1920s-40s to the middle and lower classes so they could obtain a richer lifestyle within their own lifestyles. Inventor’s successes were dependent on these classes to invest in their products and in return the inventors would capitalize and improve their work for the middle and lower classes.
More convenient and useful products with lower prices resulted in this chain of supply-and-demand. The book contains many pictures and a large index on pages 315 to 330. Pictures occupied a great part of the book, 53 to be exact. Along with an index and pictures, pages 301 to 304 contain notes that acknowledge the sources Kyvig used. Kyvig also included a “For Further Reading” section on pages 305 to 313. This section was written to cite his work and also recommend other texts to readers, like this one, about information during Americas 1920s-40s.
Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940 had parts that I felt were worth reading and parts that were not worth reading. It is hard to say the book is not worth reading because I was very interested in the automobile and how it affected Americans. I am from Dearborn, Michigan and drive by Henry Ford’s estate almost every day. His impact on America was remarkable and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this section of the book. Overall, David E. Kyvig captured three of Americas most influential decades. I appreciate him as a writer and felt privileged to read his book.
Courtney from Study Moose
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