1920s

Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal

"You don’t have to look too far when you’re in Shenandoah to see the relics of human habitation. You don’t have to be a historian. You don’t have to be an archaeologist. You can stay on trail. You can’t help but find stone walls that were built by somebody, clearly. There’s old roads. There’s house foundations. These are things you can see from the trail. So, I just saw these things over many, many years and I kind of wondered for awhile what they were all about but I didn’t really look into it for quite some time, until I started going a little bit off trail and finding more things off trail. And my curiosity was really piqued and I wanted to know, who were these people? Why are they not here? Why did they leave? Where did they go? And, what is their story all about?"

As the nation geared up for World War I, inventor Thomas Edison urged the government to fund and create a laboratory to further research toward national defense. It took a few years, but he finally got his wish. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Thomas Edison's D.C. Invention

Tonight our favorite documentary series, American Experience premieres a film about Thomas Edison, which you can watch on WETA TV26 and WETA HD at 9pm. Of course Edison is most known for his many inventions at his New Jersey lab. But, he also has a very unique connection to Washington.

The year was 1915. World War I was raging in Europe and Americans were uneasy at the prospect that their country would soon be brought into the conflict. As a man with a history of creative ideas, it's no surprise Edison had some thoughts on the situation and he was not shy about sharing them:

"The Government should maintain a great research laboratory, jointly under military and naval and civilian control. In this could be developed the continually increasing possibilities of great guns, the minutiae of new explosives, all the technique of military and naval progression, without any vast expense. When the time came, if it ever did, we could take advantage of the knowledge gained through this research work and quickly manufacture in large quantities the very latest and most efficient instruments of warfare."

It took a few years, but he finally got his wish and it left a lasting impact here in Washington.

The Klan Leaves Its Mark on Washington's Airwaves

Membership in the Ku Klux Klan spiked in the 1920s as evidenced by the thousands of marchers at the KKK's 1925 rally in Washington. (Photo source: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

It was the roaring '20s and radio was taking off. Americans were tuning-in in droves for news, opera, popular music and sports. No other medium offered the ability to reach so many people instantaneously. Advertisers took note.

So, too, did the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, which was interested in its own sort of advertising: promoting a unique brand of “patriotism” founded upon white privilege and intolerance for blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants amongst others. The Klan's foray into broadcasting is still felt in Washington to this day.

Al Capone in 1930 as photographed by the FBI's Chicago Bureau (Source: Wikipedia)

How Hoover — No, Not That Hoover! — Got Al Capone

Years after the 1931 federal conviction for tax evasion that put Al "Scarface" Capone in prison and ended his career as Chicago's most feared mobster, he was known to complain bitterly about the man whose vendetta, in Capone's view, had put him behind bars. "That bastard Hoover," Capone would rant. But he suprisingly, he wasn't talking about FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who, despite his heavily-hyped reputation as a gangster nemesis, had little to do with Capone's demise. 

Instead, Capone saw his true mortal enemy as President Herbert Hoover. And unlike most of the people who harbor grudges against Presidents, Capone actually was right. 

DC Was a Busy Place for Women in April 1922

April 1922 was a busy time for Washington socialites and the newspapers that followed them, as the city hosted no less than five national and international women’s groups in the span of a few short weeks.

DC had long been a party town (pun intended) but these gatherings provide a glimpse of the changing dynamics of womens’ political involvement during the 1920s, immediately following the passage of the nineteenth amendment. Let’s take a look at some highlights.

The recently renovated ballroom of the Willard Hotel

Save the Suitcases! The Willard Hotel Fire of 1922

There have certainly been worse fires, but the Willard Hotel blaze of 1922 caused quite a stir. It resulted in $400,000 — about $5,400,000 today — in damages to the grand hotel and sent some of the District's most distinguished citizens and guests out into the street in their pajamas. Some just moved a little more quickly than others. Apparently, emergency procedures were a little different back then.

J. P. Morgan photo from Images of American Political History (Source: Wikipedia)

J.P. Morgan REALLY wanted to leave D.C.

J.P. Morgan was a New York banker but he had plenty of occasions to visit Washington. When you control as much money as he did, you tend to keep a close eye on the government – and vice versa. And so, it’s no surprise that Morgan came to the nation’s capital from time to time for discussions with the powers that be.

Given that he was a pretty important fellow with a busy schedule, it’s also no surprise that Morgan didn’t want to waste a lot of time in transit between D.C. and the Big Apple. After all, he had deals to strike, businesses to reorganize and railroads to consolidate amongst other items on his “to-do” list.

And so, on January 23, 1911, Morgan took it upon himself to set a new world record for rail travel between Washington and New York.

Dr. S.M. Johnson with Zero Milestone. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

All Roads Lead to Washington: The Zero Milestone

No doubt you are familiar with D.C.’s most prominent tributes to history -- the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, possibly even that unique sculpture of Einstein lounging on Constitution Avenue. But have you ever heard of the Zero Milestone? Standing next to the White House, this small monument is easily missed, but it holds a tremendous amount of history, all contained in a 2x4 hunk of granite…well, actually it extends out a little farther than just that spot.

Mail Your Christmas Cards Early

Postal truck in Washington decorated in an appeal for early mailing for the Christmas season, 1921. (Source: Library of Congress)

The holiday season is pretty busy for the United States Post Office -- lots of letters and packages going all over the country, from coast to coast. And we're all familiar with the warnings that tell us to mail our items early if we want to guarantee delivery by Christmas. Well, apparently D.C. residents weren't heeding the warnings back in 1921. So the U.S.P.S. called in the big fella to get the point across.

See the full size photo »

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