Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge took the presidential oath of office on August 3, 1923, after the unexpected death in office of President Warren Harding. The new president inherited an administration plagued and discredited by corruption scandals. In the two remaining years of this term, Coolidge, long recognized for his own frugality and moderation, worked to restore the administration’s image and regain the public’s trust. He went on to win the presidential election of 1924 in his own right.

After all, the chief business of the American people is business.

President Calvin Coolidge, address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D.C., January 17, 1925. Foundations of the Republic (1926), 187.

Calvin Coolidge,…wearing black armband in mourning for President Harding. [Aug. 4, 1923]. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Coolidge believed that government should interfere as little as possible with business and industry. His administration supported tax reductions for U.S. businesses as well as high protective tariffs in support of U.S. goods—which were being produced in greater quantities than ever before. Technological and managerial innovations, improvements in the methods of production, and growing distribution networks made consumer items more generally available. Many Americans purchased cars and radios, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines—taking advantage of increasingly obtainable consumer credit.

Vacuum cleaners on display at the J. C. Harding & Co. Store, probably in Washington, D.C.. [between 1909-32]. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
Raleigh Haberdasher show window, Washington, D.C. [ca. 1925]. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
Automobiles in window of the Washington-Cadillac Co., Washington, D.C. [1927]. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Some groups did not participate fully in the emergent consumer economy, notably both African-American and white farmers as well as immigrants. While one-fifth of the American population made their living on the land, rural poverty was widespread. Despite agricultural overproduction and successive attempts in Congress to provide relief, the agricultural economy of the 1920s experienced an ongoing depression. Large surpluses were accompanied by falling prices at a time when American farmers were burdened by heavy debt. Between 1920 and 1932, one in four farms was sold to meet financial obligations and many farmers migrated to urban areas.

Restrictive immigration laws, aided by a resurgence of nativism in America in the 1920s, contributed to an atmosphere hostile to immigrants. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The National Origins Act of 1924 completely excluded Japanese and other Asian immigrants and further reduced those admitted from southern and eastern Europe.

Visitin’ ‘Round at Coolidge Corners. Filmed in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. United States: [Pathe?, 1924}. Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

The economic growth of the 1920s spurred the rise of consumer organizations and campaigns. Some, such as the Truth-in-Advertising Movement, which pursued ethics and self-regulation in advertising, were industry-based. Other campaigns and organizations sought to educate consumers. The Better Homes Movement celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration in towns and cities across the country. The Thrift Movement sought to teach children and citizens how to save and spend wisely. Lastly, there were campaigns such as the Playground Movement which began in response to popular anxieties about material excess, misuse of leisure time, and the loss of traditional values.

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Christopher Columbus

On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on his first voyage to what came to be known as the New World. With three ships and a crew of ninety, Columbus hoped to find a western route to the Far East. Instead, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed in the Bahama Islands.

Replica of Santa Maria. c1904. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

If the winds are favorable the distance is traveled quickly; but no one must start without being sure of the weather, and this assurance can be obtained by observing the sky, and finding out that this is very clear and that the wind comes from the side of the northern star, and blows for some days always in the same direction.

Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, February 6, 1502. In The Authentic Letters of Columbus. William Eleroy Curtis [introduction]; (Chicago: Field Columbian Museum, May 1895), I, no. 2:125.

Columbus set sail in an era of maritime advances, charting his route with the aid of a mariner’s compass, an astrolabe, a cross-staff, and a quadrant. The most popular map for mariners at the time was Ptolemy’s Geographia or Cosmographia, printed in 1482 but originally compiled by the Alexandrian geographer, astronomer, and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy in the second century A.D.

Cosmographia. Claudius Ptolemy; translated by Jacopo d’Angelo; edited by Nicolaus Germanus; Ulm, Lienhart Holle, 16 July (XVII Kal. Aug.) 1482. Thacher Collection. Rare Book Selections. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Early on the morning of October 12, 1492, a crew member spotted land. At daylight, Columbus went ashore and planted the flag of his sponsors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní. Columbus eventually created a base of operations for his first and second trips on the island the Europeans called Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Columbus’ remains are believed to have been buried in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic following his death in 1506.

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  • Learn more about Columbus’ expedition by visiting the Library of Congress online exhibition, 1492: An Ongoing Voyage.
  • Read about the exploration and early settlement of the Americas in the Library of Congress exhibition Exploring the Early Americas.
  • View the maps in Discovery and Exploration documenting the European Age of Discoveries, from the late 15th century to the 17th century. Also included are 18th and 19th century maps documenting the exploration and mapping of the interior parts of the continents, reflecting the work of Lewis and Clark and subsequent government explorers and surveyors.
  • See Images of Christopher Columbus and His Voyages. No portrait of Columbus drawn or painted from life is known to exist. Many images depicting Columbus and his activities, however, can be found in the Library’s collections. The images in this list were selected to meet requests regularly received by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
  • Search the World Digital Library collection to view other editions of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia such as one from the National Library of Naples.