Russ Gifford
Reliving the 1920s


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My Presentations:

Those Who Came Before Us: Regional Prehistory

Native Americans and American History

The Founding Fathers

The American Revolution & Creation of the Republic

A History of the House of Representatives

Presidential Leadership

Contentious Elections in American History

One Term Wonders

Pivotal Moments In American History

The American Civil War and Reconstruction

The Crucible - America After the War of Rebellion

Westward Expansion

Traveling the West in the 19th Century

Supremely Confident: Legal Cases that Changed History

The Fight for the Right to Vote - the Women's Movement

Women Making a Difference

The Rise and Fall of Mass Media

The Great War

The 1920s

Regional Greats

WWII - 75 Years Later

Justice Delayed: The Civil Rights Movement

The Cold War

The History of the CIA

The War in Vietnam

My Generation: The History of the 1960s

Boomer Classics: Books that Shaped the Sixties

Into the Darkness: 1968

Power to the People - from the 1950s to Today

The History of Rock n Roll: The First 30 Years

Regional History

Those Who Came Before: The Mill Creek Culture

Iowa in the American Civil War

Sioux City: Our History and Our Hopes

Sioux City: Ground Zero in the Great Depression

Sioux City: Crime Corruption, & Redemption

World History

The Crusades

The Reformation at 500

Written Works and Articles

Spectacular Voyage: Lewis and Clark in Our Region

Murder On Water Street: The Death Rev. Haddock

A Glimpse of the Past: Steamboat Perils

Empty Parking Lots and Dark Wal-Marts

Susan B. Anthony and  Sioux City in the 1870s

A Chance Encounter with a Legend


Music of 1966:Summer in the City

Music of 1966:Music of Blond on Blond

About Russ Gifford

Contact Russ



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Looking Back on the 1920s

Mark Twain supposedly said, "History may not repeat, but it certainly rhymes."
This series will look back on the years 1920 to 1929. You may find you already know the tune.

The 1920’s: The Failure of Leadership? Or the Triumph of the Businessman?

History calls it the ‘Roaring 20s.’ Music swinging, people dancing, and booze flowing in the speakeasy. Beautiful young women dancing the night away, dressed to the nines. Gangsters and gun molls, dandies and dilatants, prohibition be damned.

That might be true in the large cities, but the 1920s looks far different across most of the USA.

With the end of the Great War American farmers experienced a rapid change of prospects. The boom years of selling everything you could grow suddenly bottomed out, and those that had overextended themselves buying land or machinery to grow more found it tough to pay the loans. As the decade continued, things only got worse for the American farmer, and they entered the great depression almost a decade before the rest of the American public.

1920: The New Normal? (link )

Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover defined the 1920s. Harding as a hands off business booster; Coolidge as a quiet man who feels he is only needed if things go awry; and Hoover as the 'can do' executive with the instincts of an efficiency expert, the model of the age.

As we explore this moment between the wars, we will spend some time with each of these presidents, to examine their strengths and weaknesses, and see how their personalities and their choices would impact America’s future. 

1921-1923: Looking Back, Moving Forward? - Immigration, Racism, and Rise of Statues
 (link )

We will also see the changes in communications with the rise of commercial radio. Radio networks and syndicated newspapers will create a similarity to the news stories in all regions of the country. Advertising, and low monthly payments for goods created by the new innovative appliances will change the home. Magazines targeted at specific markets will shape opinions, and and in expectations. Much of the story of the 1920s is the rise of consumerism and marketing, and how the new magazines as opinion makers will join with the networks and the syndicates to mold the future many of us will recognize. Part of that is the wisdom of the technician known as 'the Chief.' Herbert Hoover masterminded the creation of the regulations that would rule over the air radio for many years. He knew if the industry were left to change, the service would be poor, rural regions would be underserved, and the radio frequencies would step on each other in an effort to saturate the major markets. He refused to let that happen, and the FCC would be the result.

1924-1927: Lawlessness - Not Just in the Streets  (link )

Beyond prohibition and the Jazz Age, the best known moment of the 1920s is the Teapot Dome Scandal - yet today little more than the name is actually known.  In these sessions we will see it is more than a scandal. It was a morality play pitting big business and greed against the concept of limited government. The difference is, the morality was not the winner.   The Founding Fathers could never have conceived of the wealth generated by the Oil Barons, but just as Main Street businesses believed anything that resulted in a profit for them must be good, Big Oil saw ‘investing’ in politicians to be just another business expense. While the actual crimes are conducted in plain sight, it will take years before the details reveal the corruption started at the top, inside the President's cabinet.


1928-1929: The New Prosperity, and the Big Crash! (link )

Politicians like Harding and others reflected the sincere belief that regulations in business were bad. Their view is Populist driven regulations of the Wilson era undermined business, and worked to sweep them away. The 1920s show that unbridled business can make a lot of money quickly - for the owners. But those same lack of regulations will hurt consumers, and eventually owners, as the eventual loss of customers to shoddy work, and the loss of experienced workers would drop profits, and the lower costs eventually could not make up that difference. 

Beyond that is the continually overlooked lesson that booms based on a lack of business regulations, rather than business innovation, result in an eventual bust. Equally unsustainable is when the boom is strictly in the stock market, not on real value of the business whose stock is being traded. That is simply speculation, and that bubble will always burst. With no regulation on banks or on lenders or on stockbrokers, playing the market on credit for individuals, or on the margin for big speculators would result in widespread hardships for all. The failure of the stock market would eventually shut down businesses; banks would lose depositors as businesses closed and laid off workers, and as banks failed, healthier business could not meet expenses. Within a year, the engine of American business froze.

The lessons learned would last for almost 70 years before market purists demanding 'free markets' gained a credible following. 

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Russ Gifford returns listeners to a moment in time to show us the events of the era, and populates the story with the people we would meet!

“Russell was always ready to go for any class he taught for us. He is capable of presenting to all levels of people from the novice to expert. …  I would hire him again any day!”  - Lori Vanderheiden

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