Top of page

Collection Calvin Coolidge Papers

The Prosperity of the Coolidge Era

The presidency of Calvin Coolidge spanned years of unprecedented prosperity between the brief depression following World War I and the decade-long Great Depression of the 1930s. In the 1920s the ability to produce and distribute goods on a mass scale, aided by technological development and federal policies favoring industry, brought about a stabilization of the economy that led to wide prosperity.

Presidential automobile, ca. 1924 Lincoln, parked in front of stores, with the chauffeur seated behind the steering wheel
[Presidential automobile, ca. 1924, National Photo Company Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-USZ62-37395 (b&w film copy neg.)

Working people at many income levels experienced a rise in their standard of living. The historian Ellis Hawley, in his book The Great War and the Search for a Modern Order (1992), notes that from 1922 to 1928 the index of industrial production climbed 70 percent. According to Hawley, the increased production widened the gap between rich and poor, but the real earnings of employed wage earners still increased about 22 percent (p. 67).

By the end of the 1920s, nearly half of the American population owned automobiles, radios, and durable consumer goods such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Chain stores and mail-order houses proliferated. New product offerings made their debut on the market each year, prompting companies to launch advertising and public-relations campaigns in an effort to stimulate consumption. Widespread electrification helped reduce the manufacturing costs of existing products. Consumer credit enabled many people to make purchases even before they had accumulated enough money to do so.

The prosperity of the Coolidge years led to a renewed emphasis on the notion of "thrift." Always associated with self-restraint, moderation, and frugality, thrift now came to acquire the meaning of "wise spending." Government and business supported this trend and a number of consumer organizations worked to inform the public about the virtues of thrifty spending.

Additional Resources

For related material in the Calvin Coolidge Papers, see File No. 87, Thrift; File No. 102, Automobiles; and File No. 136, Radios (Part I and Part II).