77 Colorized Images That Show The Roaring Twenties As It Truly Was

Published June 5, 2024

From flappers to gangsters, see the Roaring Twenties in breathtaking color.

The 1920s were a strange, fascinating time in Western culture. Also known as the Roaring Twenties or the Jazz Age, it was a time of new technology, more freedom for women, musical innovation, and excess. At the same time, there was a nationwide ban against alcohol in America, an increase in organized crime as a result, and a bit of ironic hindsight, given that the Great Depression followed this extravagant golden age.

Yet there is undoubtedly a sense of nostalgia when we look back at the 1920s. From the popular fashion of flappers to the luxurious parties depicted in famous books and movies like The Great Gatsby, the 1920s were certainly a vibrant time period. Unfortunately, the black and white photography of the era often fails to capture that vibrancy in full detail.

Thankfully, we’ve gathered a collection of colorized photos of the 1920s that breathe new life into this bygone era of the past.

Four Flappers Drinking
St Louis Cotton Club Band
Anti War Women Protesting
Celebrating The End Of Prohibition
77 Colorized Images That Show The Roaring Twenties As It Truly Was
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Prohibition And The Birth Of Speakeasies

It's odd to think that the 1920s, a time characterized by lavish, booze-filled parties, began just after the introduction of the Volstead Act and the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which introduced the United States to Prohibition. That meant it was illegal to manufacture, sell, and transport alcohol — and therefore, nobody could legally drink.

That doesn't mean Americans were left without options, though. It just took some enterprising individuals to find a way to fill this gap in the market.

Bootlegging — procuring alcohol from outside the U.S. and illegally importing and selling it — proved to be a lucrative business venture for notorious criminals of the time, like Jack "Legs" Diamond or George "Bugs" Moran.

Alcohol was still being supplied to the U.S., but now there was another problem: There was nowhere to drink it. Undeterred by laws, gangsters soon began to open countless underground bars known as speakeasies across the nation, where Americans looking to imbibe could go and do so away from the watchful eyes of the government's "Dry Agents."

Unsurprisingly, speakeasies made a lot of money, and helped establish various crime lords as highly influential figures who would go on to control vast networks of illicit businesses for decades to come.

Of course, illegal drinking wasn't the only thing that defined the 1920s. Fashion, feminism, film, and music all played an equally important role.

Flapper Fashion And The Women's Movement

Flapper

Public DomainAn illustration of a flapper for a 1922 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

It might be hard to believe that just 100 years ago, women in America had very few rights, but that was the unfortunate reality until August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. (Sadly, many women of color, immigrant women, and impoverished women would continue to face barriers in elections for years to come.)

Amidst the women's suffrage movement, many women became determined to move the dial even further. However, it still wasn't easy for them to operate in the same playing field as men of the era.

But one thing women did have control over was their fashion. Inspired by women in Europe, American women left behind restrictive corsets and Victorian-era dresses in favor of higher hemlines and looser fabrics that allowed for easier mobility. These women came to be known as flappers.

They cut their hair into the fashionable bob haircut made popular by the likes of Zelda Fitzgerald — the wife of The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald — and popular movie stars like Clara Bow.

Alongside this change in fashion came new dances like the Charleston, which represented the newfound freedom women were experiencing as they could move their bodies in livelier — and more risqué — ways.

These new dances also coincided with the rise of a wild new form of music, one that shied away from convention and structure in favor of a more emotional, raw, and improvisational approach: jazz.

The Jazz Age And The Harlem Renaissance

Carter And King Jazzing Orchestra

Wikimedia CommonsThe King & Carter Jazzing Orchestra, pictured in Houston in 1921.

Today, some people might think of jazz as "old music," but a century ago, it was a revolutionary new type of music that came to define the time period.

With roots in the Black American communities of New Orleans, jazz soon rose in popularity across the entire United States thanks to its upbeat, energizing, and dynamic tempo. One place where the popularity of jazz exploded was Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance.

Although jazz was being pioneered by Black artists, white audiences were also drawn to it. Jazz bands were performing this new music in speakeasies across the country, and dances emerged to suit the new songs.

One of the most famous Harlem speakeasies of the time was the Cotton Club, which inspired countless other jazz clubs like it.

However, Cotton Club had a troubling reputation for racism and segregation, which led to Black Harlemites flocking to clubs where they would be welcomed, like Savoy Ballroom, Lenox Club, and the Renaissance Ballroom.

The Great Depression Marks The End Of An Era

Great Depression

National Archives and Records Administration; Ryan StennesUnemployed men line up outside a Chicago soup kitchen owned by Al Capone during the Great Depression.

The idea of the Roaring Twenties came to a sudden, devastating halt on October 24, 1929 — a day now known as "Black Thursday."

All throughout the Jazz Age, banks had been unregulated and loaned money recklessly. Meanwhile, ordinary people had become more interested in investments and buying and selling shares (often ignoring risks along the way). Eventually, many shares became extremely overvalued.

Amidst overinflated shares, growing bank loans, and an overheated economy, a record 12.9 million shares were traded on Black Thursday. The stock market would soon crash, causing the Great Depression, which led millions of Americans to become unemployed.

Although the government considered federal intervention so that aid could be directly sent to American citizens, President Herbert Hoover decided not to proceed. Thus, many Americans blamed him for the worsening Depression, which soon left 15 million people looking for work.

At the same time, shanty towns known as Hoovervilles started cropping up across America, as people tried to get by any way they could.

Things would eventually improve, of course, but the Great Depression wouldn't officially come to an end until 1939 — a full decade after it began.


After this eye-opening look into life in the 1920s, check out our gallery of 44 colorized century-old New York City photos. Or, look through our gallery of 99 colorized photos from history's most iconic moments.

author
Austin Harvey
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
editor
Jaclyn Anglis
editor
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Harvey, Austin. "77 Colorized Images That Show The Roaring Twenties As It Truly Was." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 5, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/1920s-colorizations. Accessed June 21, 2024.