Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events

Pre-1650 1650 1700 1750 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840
  1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
Literature, Music, and Movies
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s
Political and Social History Literature
  • 16 January. The 18th Amendment (Prohibition Amendment) goes into effect at midnight.  Although the law is challenged in some states (New Jersey), the Supreme Court later declares the law valid. (Map of "wet" and "dry" states at
  • The 19th Amendment (voting rights for women) goes into effect.
  • Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer declares that a "Red Menace" exists, and authorities begin to raid private homes and labor headquarters. 
  • 5 May. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are arrested on charges of murder and robbery. 
  • Elections: The Republican Party nominates Warren G. Harding for president and Calvin Coolidge for vice-president. The Democrats nominate James M. Cox for president and Franklin Delano Roosevelt for vice-president. The Socialist Labor Party nominates Eugene V. Debs as its presidental candidate, although Debs is in jail serving a 10-year sentence for controversial speeches delivered during World War I.  Other parties nominating candidates include the Farmer Labor Party, which will merge with Robert La Follette's Progressive Party, and the Prohibition Party. On 2 November, Harding wins the election by a wide margin (nearly two to one).
  • 2 November. Station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, initiates regular radio broadcasts, the first station to do so. 
  • Sinclair Lewis, Main Street
  • Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence and In Morocco
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald,This Side of Paradise
  • Anzia Yezierska, Hungry Hearts 
  • Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberly. For informaton on Pound and other modernist poets, visit the "Petals on a Wet, Black Bough" exhibit at the Beinecke Museum. 
  • Eugene O'Neill, The Emperor Jones
  • Robert Frost, Mountain Interval
  • Death of William Dean Howells (b. 1837) 

  • 2 April. Albert Einstein lectures in New York about his theory of relativity.
  • The Emergency Quota Act restricts immigration by setting limits based on the number of foreign-born people already in the country in 1910.  Immigration must not exceed three percent of each nationality already in the United States in that year.
  • George Washington Carver of the Tuskegee Institution presents his innovative ideas on agriculture to the U. S. House of Representatives.
  • Former president William Howard Taft is appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • July-September. Wage cuts and massive unemployment cause unrest and an increase in violence.  The newly formed Hoover Commission suggests price cuts and shorter hours rather than an increase in wages; the average working day is 12-14 hours. 
  • December. By order of President Harding, Eugene Debs is freed from prison.
  • 10 November. Margaret Sanger forms the American Birth Control League.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flappers and Philosophers (stories)
  • John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers
  • Sherwood Anderson, The Triumph of the Egg (stories); "The Egg"
  • Edith Wharton wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Age of Innocence. Although some of the judges wished to award the prize to Sinclair Lewis's Main Street, others believe Lewis's book to be too negative in its representation of small-town America.  Lewis sends Wharton a gracious note of congratulationsafter his loss, and she responds by praising Main Street
  • James Joyce's Ulysses is published in Paris; 500 copies imported to America are seized by the U. S. Post Office as obscene material and burned.
  • 1922
  • The World War Foreign Debt commission tries to sort out the issue of war debts owed to the United States, which insists on full payment and thereby causes ill will among European nations.
  • The Supreme Court declares the 19th Amendment (votes for women) to be constitutional.
  • The Capper-Volstead Act permits farmers to form cooperatives for buying and selling goods without being prosecuted for anti-trust violations. 
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald,The Beautiful and Damned
  • T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1921-1922)
  • Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt 
  • Anzia Yezierska, Salome of the Tenements
  • Eugene O'Neill, The Hairy Ape
  • Willa Cather, One of Ours 
  • Edith Wharton, The Glimpses of the Moon
  • Katherine Anne Porter, "Maria Conception" (Century
  • T. S. Eliot founds Criterion magazine (1922-1939)
  • Booth Tarkington wins the Pulitzer Prize for Alice Adams

  • The Intermediate Credit Act authorized by Congress provides relief to farmers through extending loans to cooperatives.
  • 2 August. President Harding dies of an embolism after suffering ptomaine poisoning followed by pneumonia.  Coolidge is sworn in on 3 August.
  • The Teapot Dome scandal erupts as the deal between Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil and Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall is revealed. Fall had illegally leased federal lands to Sinclair's company without calling for competitive bids; after the investigation, Fall is the first cabinet member in U. S. history to go to jail.
  • The FBI begins investigating an unusually high rate of murders and mysterious deaths among the Osage  in what Oklahoma newspapers call the "Osage Reign of Terror."  Because of the great wealth of  the Osages' oil-rich land,  members of the  tribe become the targets of unscrupulous dealings and violence.
  • U. S. Steel implements the 8-hour day, a victory for labor.
  • Willa Cather, A Lost Lady 
  • Wallace Stevens, Harmonium
  • William Carlos Williams, Spring and All
  • Jean Toomer, Cane 
  • 1924
  • Congress passes a new and more restrictive immigration law; quotas are now set at only 2 percent of existing nationalities in the U.S. in 1920, and Japanese immigration is suspended.
  • Calvin Coolidge is elected by a large margin over the Democratic candidate, John W. Davis, and the Progressive candidate, Robert La Follette. 
  • Nellie Ross of Wyoming and Miriam Ferguson of Texas are elected governors of their states.
  • Edith Wharton, Old New York (novellas)
  • Eugene O'Neill, Desire under the Elms 
  • H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan found The American Mercury, which ceases publication in 1951.
  • 1925
  • February. A diphtheria epidemic in Alaska captures the country's attention as dog teams drive through the winter weather to deliver  antidiphtheria serum to Nome.
  • July. The Scopes trial begins as John T. Scopes of Tennessee is arrested for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.  Clarence Darrow defends Scopes as William Jennings Bryan heads the prosecution. In an unusual move, Bryan takes the witness stand to defend his strict interpretation of the Bible.  Scopes loses the trial and is fined $100, but the trial publicity has given the debate over evolution national attention.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time 
  • Willa Cather, The Professor's House
  • Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
  • Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans
  • Alain Locke, The New Negro
  • Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers
  • John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
  • Edna Ferber's So Big wins the Pulitzer Prize.
  • The New Yorker is founded by Harold Ross. Its unofficial motto: "Not edited for the old lady in Dubuque" (James Thurber, The Years with Ross, 75). 
  • 1926
  • The Air Commerce Act regulates civil aviation; the Army Air Corps is established.  This occurs just one year after Col. William "Billy" Mitchell had been suspended from the Army for 5 years without pay for insisting on the importance of air power in the national defense.
  • A land boom in Florida comes to a halt as a massive tornado causes enormous damage.
  • Richard Byrd makes the first flight over the North Pole.
  • U. S. Marines land in Nicaragua to suppress a revolt and will stay until 1933.
  • Gertrude Ederle swims the English channel in 14 hours, 31 minutes.
  • William Faulkner, Soldier's Pay
  • Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
  • Hart Crane, The Bridge
  • Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues
  • 1927
  • 20-21 May. Charles Lindbergh flies The Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris, traveling 3600 miles in 33 and a half hours.
  • Catholic presidential candidate Alfred Smith of New York answers questions about whether his loyalty to the Vatican would supersede his loyalty to the U. S. by saying, "I recognize no power in the institution of my Church to interfere with the operations of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land."
  • Refusing a nomination for reelection in what will become a famous statement, Calvin Coolidge says, "I do not choose to run."
  • 23 August. Still protesting their innocence, Sacco and Vanzetti are executed after judicial appeals are exhausted.
  • 6 October. The Jazz Singer, starring Broadway star Al Jolson, debuts as the "first" talking picture, and its success spells the beginning of the end for silent movies.
  • 20 October. The Ford Model A, the successor to the Model T, is produced under great secrecy. Production lines have been shut down and retooled to produce it. Public curiosity is finally satisfied on December 2 when the car goes on sale. By 1929, 1.5 million Model A cars had been sold. Songs like the humorous "Henry's Made a Lady out of Lizzie" celebrated the Model A..
  • Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop 
  • Countee Cullen, Caroling Dusk (anthology) and Copper Sun 
  • 1928
  • Elections: In the presidential election, Republican Herbert Hoover, whose party's slogan is "A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage," beats Democratic candidate Al Smith.  Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected governor of New York.
  • The Kellogg-Briand Pact proposes to substitute diplomacy for warfare as a means of settling international disputes; 62 nations ultimately sign the pact. The U. S. Senate approves the pact in 1929.
  • 12 March. In southern California, the two-year-old St. Francis Dam gives way, killing over 500 people. The dam is part of the water system designed by William Mulholland, creator of the Los Angeles Aqueduct systerm.
  • Eugene O'Neill, Strange Interlude
    Nella Larsen, Quicksand
  • 14 February. In the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," six gangsters from the "Bugs" Moran mob and another man are gunned down  in a Chicago garage.
  • 1 July. Enforcement of the the Immigration Act of 1924 begins.
  • 24-29 October. On "Black Thursday," 24 October, 13 million shares are sold on the New York Stock Exchange; despite efforts to shore up prices by J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, prices fall again on 29 October, "Black Tuesday," as 16 million shares are sold.  By 13 November, $30 billion has been lost in devalued stocks.  Although all of the effects are not felt immediately, the stock market crash marks the beginning of the Great Depression.
  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out its first awards, which are not called "Oscars" until 1931.
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury and Sartoris
  • Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms 
  • Katherine Anne Porter, "Flowering Judas"
  • Countee Cullen, Black Christ and Other Poems
  • Nella Larsen, Passing 
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