Once Upon a Time…in 1927

This past summer I read a largely wonderful (and wonderfully large) book by Bill Bryson titled One Summer: America 1927. The book is full of topics and people that don’t always make it into history textbooks. So let me give you a few highlights.

During the summer of 1927 Calvin Coolidge was president of the United State and he spent most of the summer on vacation. Coolidge didn’t really do much as president. In 1927 times were good and ‘Silent Cal’ didn’t get in the way. He did attend a ceremony marking the beginning of work on the carvings on Mount Rushmore. The monument was conceived and designed by Gutzon Borglum, an….interesting man, who would not live to see the project completed.

Babe Ruth beat his own home run record in 1927, after most people thought his career was ending, by knocking 60 balls out of the park in one season. To get an idea of how amazing this was keep this in mind; in 1927 most ball players had never hit half as many home runs, and Ruth’s record wouldn’t be beaten until 1961. However the biggest sporting event was the boxing rematch between Jack Dempsey the former heavyweight champ and Gene Tunney. Tunney had beaten Dempsey the year before, but most people favored Dempsey to win with his ferocious fighting style  . During the ten rounds Tunney beat Dempsey on points but not without controversy. Many people lost money betting on Dempsey but the most famous/infamous was probably Al Capone, who bet $50,000. Capone had lots of money though. He’d become rich by importing and making illegal alcohol. The US had outlawed the sale (not the consumption) of alcohol, which made it possible for men like Capone to make a fortune selling illegal (bootleg) liquor. Prohibition of alcohol caused a huge rise in organized crime. In 1927 Capone was at the height of his power and popularity, but it was soon to end because he wasn’t paying taxes on any of his income and that summer someone in a government office had just figured out that the government could easily imprison crime bosses for that even if they couldn’t prove any of their other illegal activities.

Two men who were already in prison for a murder which they might not have committed were executed in the summer of 1927. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during the armed robbery of a shoe factory. There was not a lot of evidence against Sacco and Vanzetti but the country was very fearful of immigrants (especially Italians) and anarchists, so they were convicted. Many people protested and wrote letters demanding re-trials or release, but none of it worked; Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair.

Henry Ford, the great American industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, had shutdown all his factories by summer in 1927. His Model-T was old and out of date and instead of continuing production while a new car was designed Ford shut everything down. Ford had some weird beliefs and also didn’t like hiring ‘experts’ so no trained engineers and designers were part of designing the next car. Predictably, the Model-A didn’t do very well when it came out in the fall.

By far the biggest event of the summer was the winning of the Orteig Prize by young Charles Lindbergh. The Orteig was a prize for the first person to cross the Atlantic from New York to Paris by airplane, and many pilots competed. Lindbergh did it in a self-designed (fairly cheap) plane from which he could not see the runway in front of him. It was a great accomplishment and people all over the world were obsessed with anything that had to do with airplanes. Lindbergh was mobbed everywhere he went and hated all the attention. People crowded the runways and parade routes when he came to town. People threw ticker-tape along parade routes where ever he went. When they ran out of ticker-tape some people threw phone books and other heavy objects out of four or five story buildings in celebration. They called him ‘Lucky Lindy’ even though he hated the name and named a dance after him even though he never danced. Lindbergh loved flying but quickly grew to hate being famous.

 

Assignment

  •  Click on all of the links in the info above.
  • Research important events in the United States from this past summer  (May 26 – Sept 1) and create a list of at least seven important events from politics, sports, and popular culture.
  • Each event listed should include a 1-2 sentence description explaining its importance.
  • Full bibliography required. Each event should have its own separate source. The sources and events should be numbered in such a way as to correspond and enable easy understanding of which events link to which bibliographic entry.
  • This assignment is due on Tuesday, May 27 and is worth 30 points!

 

These must be typed. You can either turn in a printed copy or email me an attached copy at zachary.wilson@pucs.org.

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