American Individualism: Curse or Boon?

The United States suffered its most crushing depression in the early twentieth century. But why? There is no doubt that the Great Depression was caused by numerous factors, such as over speculation of stocks and lavish lifestyles. However, most if not all of the factors leading up to the Great Depression can be traced to one ideal that was very prevalent during that time: American Individualism in the 20th Century.  Below is a formula that led to this Nationalistic fervor, the immediate consequences, and the long term ramifications of this spirit.

The Beginning 1900-1920

Soldier from World War I. The victory in World War I further strengthened the sense of Individualism and Nationalism among the Americans.

Women’s rights activists. The Progressive movement symbolized change from the traditionalist past and promoted equality, socially and economically.

The Panama Canal Being built.  The imperialism in the early 20th century strengthened the already growing Nationalism in the United States.

The Good Years 1920-1929

Flappers. During this time, American Individualism strengthened by the progressive movement led people to exercise their new found rights and live lavish life styles dependent on debt.

The Bull Market. To achieve the new and leisurely lifestyles Americans were expected to achieve, Americans embarked on risky practices to obtain it, such as buying-on-margin.

Complete Bust 1929-1933

Farmers. Farmers, individualistic and self-sustaining, overproduced. The resulting drop in wheat prices led to Black Tuesday in which panic selling resulted in the stock market crash.

Bank Closings. With not enough money to pay for the panic withdrawals, banks started closing en-masse.

By riding on Individualism and nationalism during the 1920’s, America rapidly changed. By wanting to exercise their individual rights and increase their fortunes, America experienced rapid, but unstable growth. Americans simply wanted to continue what they did for decades, but in a new economy and world. Because of the inability to shrug off the confident, individualistic attitude, America was caught by surprise and hit rock bottom in the Great Depression.

Sources:, International Photography Hall of Fame, n.a., US Library of Congress, exodus magneto, Caryl, Dagle, n.a., n.a., Pelerin, Monty


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