Celebrating the History of Motion Pictures from 1890 to 1960


History of Motion Pictures
1920 – 1929

A Brief Overview of the Decade

Beginning with the establishment of Prohibition in 1920, and ending with the Stock Market Crash in 1929, the “Roaring 20s” filled the years between with a mood of egalitarianism, immediacy, freedom and speed. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to hear the music of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, while the “ Charleston ” set off a dance frenzy. It was, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, the “Jazz Age”, when seemingly everyone pursued empty thrills to stave off boredom. Mass culture arrived in force, shaped by mass production, mass consumption and mass media. It was a decade that witnessed the arrival of the “flapper”, the radio, speakeasies, hip flasks, raccoon coats, short skirts, bobbed hair and “Chanel No. 5”.

The new President, Calvin Coolidge, declared, “the business of America is business”, and as unemployment plummeted the Stock Market soared. The U.S. Senate declared the phone company to be a “natural monopoly”, and by the end of the decade almost half the homes in the country had a telephone. When Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, and Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel, and the 18th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote, it suddenly seemed that anything and everything was possible.

However, even as the League of Nations brought hope for world peace at the beginning of the decade, the storm clouds of the future were already beginning to form. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini began their rise to power during this period, and the various socialist groups in China began organizing into a coherent communist party. The U.S. population grew suspicious of all things foreign, and the country began drawing into a shell of Isolationism. Prohibition fueled the growth of organized crime, and millions of financial novices borrowed money to invest in the quickly rising Stock Market. In England, the British Parliament passed the ill–fated “Government of Ireland Act”, partitioning the island colony into two administrative regions, while in India Mahatma Gandhi began opposing British rule.

But few cared about these developing clouds. This was the age when everyone followed the record–shattering exploits of such sports figures as Bobby Jones, Jack Dempsey, Knute Rockne, Red Grange, Johnny Weissmuller, Sonja Henie and, of course, Babe Ruth. People were relaxing with the novels of Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Agatha Christie, and the poetry of Langston Hughes and T.S. Eliot; and while enjoying the political satire of Will Rogers, they were also listening to the far different humor of Amos ‘n Andy on the radio. This was also the decade when the movies suddenly found its voice.


The theater chain, Loew’s Incorporated, takes over Metro Pictures Corporation.   Louis B. Mayer sets up Louis B. Mayer Productions Incorporated in New York.   Mary Pickford marries Douglas Fairbanks.   D.W. Griffith sells shares in the new “D.W. Griffith Corporation” in order to finance his new studios at Mamaroneck…

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The Capitol Theater in New York City seating 8,000, becomes the biggest cinema in the world.   The number of films made by German production companies rises to 600.   The famous film comedian, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, is arrested on a charge of homicide, causing a nationwide scandal.   Paramount…

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Studios located in and near Hollywood are now producing 84% of the films being made in the U.S.   The famous film comedian, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, is finally cleared of all charges in the death of a young actress. However, he is nearly bankrupt and Paramount Pictures pulls all of…

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The German director, Ernst Lubitsch, has come to Hollywood to pursue his career. His first film, produced by Mary Pickford, is “Rosita”.   Significant Films: Universal releases, The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, starring Lon Chaney. Cecil B. DeMille’s, “The Ten Commandments”, is released. It is two and a half hours…

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Harry Cohn, his brother Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt found Columbia Pictures.   Marcus Loew, the head of “Loew’s Inc.” and “Metro Pictures”, and Louis B. Mayer, the head of “Goldwyn Pictures Corporation”, merge their companies to form Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer (MGM). While Marcus Loew continues as president of the parent company…

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D.W. Griffith reaches an agreement that releases him from his contract with United Artists.   Samuel Goldwyn signs a contract with United Artists to supply from two to four films a year.   Warner Bros. takes over the Vitagraph Company of America. As part of the agreement, Warner Bros. inherits…

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The Hungarian film director, Mihaly Kertesz, arrives from Europe to begin making films at Warner Bros. He is to be known as Michael Curtiz.   Using their new Vitaphone sound system, Warner Bros. presents a two and a half hour program consisting of a number of musical shorts and the…

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Eastman Kodak begins to aggressively promote the use of its panchromatic negative film stock to movie professionals. The panchromatic film, unlike the older orthochromatic stock, is capable of reproducing proper tonal values across the full visible color spectrum, including red, but until now had been more expensive than the older…

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Great Britain enacts “The Quota Act”. It stipulates that 7.5% of the films screened in domestic theaters must be made in Great Britain.   The success of the sound film, “The Jazz Singer”, throws the movie business into turmoil.   Many movies begin to be made in multiple versions: silent…

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In Germany, UFa begins building Europe’s most modern sound–film studios.   Bringing together the Radio Corporation of American, the Keith Orpheum theater chain, and American Pathè, a new motion picture company is founded. Radio–Keith–Orpheum, or RKO, has chosen as its logo a giant radio tower perched atop the world, to…

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