Names & Terms in 
   Fasttrack to America's Past
   Section 7: Becoming a World Leader
Return to

Allied Powers - the alliance of Great Britain, France, Russia, and a number of other countries in World War I.  They fought against the Central Powers, headed by Germany.  The U.S. entered the war in 1917 on the side of the Allied Powers, helping achieve victory in 1918.

Allies - In World War II, the Allies included the U.S., Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union (Russia) and other nations.  The Allies fought against and defeated the Axis nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan).

appeasement - the common term for the policy followed by leaders of the British and the French governments in the 1930s as Hitler and Mussolini started making aggressive moves against other nations. 
    With the memory of the death and destruction of World War I so fresh, both Britain and France wanted to avoid a confrontation that might lead to a new war.  The most famous example of appeasement came in 1938, when Hitler took over part of Czechoslovakia.  He told British and French leaders that if they would accept the take-over, he would seek no more territory.  Rather than stand up to Hitler, Britain and France accepted his false promises.
    In a famous prediction, however, Winston Churchill said, “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor.  They chose dishonor. They will have war.”  One year later, World War II began as Germany invaded Poland.

Axis - the alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II.  Their aggression against other nations in the 1930s caused the war.

Babe Ruth - nickname of George Ruth, a famous baseball player of the 1920s whose energy and hard-drinking lifestyle reflected the spirit of the “Roaring Twenties.”  Ruth set a number of batting and pitching records that made him one of the sport’s truly immortal heroes.  He played much of his career with the New York Yankees, and helped lead the team to seven world series pennants.

bank run - a situation in which a large number of depositors at a bank rush to withdraw their money at the same time, usually because of rumors the bank is in financial trouble.  Since banks lend out most of their deposits to earn interest, they may be unable to cover withdrawals by large numbers of depositors on short notice.
    This was a common problem in the early years of the Great Depression.  Often, bank customers were nervous, and any sort of rumor could trigger a bank run.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt dealt with this problem shortly after taking office by closing all banks temporarily until they could prove they were financially in good shape.  He also pushed for creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which guaranteed to depositors that their money would always be safe.  As a result, the problem of bank runs was greatly reduced.

Battle of Britain - the air war over Britain launched by Germany after the fall of France in 1940.  The Nazi leaders planned to invade England, but first had to defeat the (British) Royal Air Force.  At the height of the fighting, more than 200 German bombers hit the city of London every night for two months.
    Fortunately, the British had developed a radar system that gave them some warning, and their own fighter planes and pilots proved they could defend the island nation.  Some air attacks by Germany continued into 1941, but leaders there decided to postpone the planned invasion.

blitzkrieg - the “lightning war” strategy of the German army in World War II.  This strategy called for a very rapid attack that made it difficult for the other side to organize a defense.  Typically, airplanes went in first for bombing attacks, followed by tanks and motorized troop carriers.  The strategy was designed to avoid the pattern of fighting common in World War I, when each side dug long lines of trenches and neither side could easily advance on the other.  Blitzkrieg proved to be a very effective strategy.

Central Powers - the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), and a number of other countries in World War One.  They were defeated by the Allied Powers.

Churchill, Winston - Prime Minister of England during most of World War II.  He had tried to warn the British for many years of the threat of Hitler’s rise, but his warnings went mostly unheeded until war broke out.  Once in office, he rallied the British people to keep up the fight against the Axis powers even as cities like London came under heavy air attack from German planes.
    His speeches are still read today for their powerful declaration of the moral values and principles at stake in the conflict.

Clayton Act - a law passed in 1914 that helped establish a solid legal basis for labor unions, and outlawed business practices that often led to the creation of monopolies.  The law was among the most important of the Progressive movement.  It said labor unions were not subject to antitrust laws aimed at big business, and said federal courts could not issue injunctions (orders) against peaceful strikes, picketing, or union meetings.

Cold War - the struggle for dominance in the decades after 1945 between Russia and other communist countries on one side, and America and other free nations on the other.
    The Cold War turned into a number of small “hot” wars in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Central America, where communists attempted to extend their system.  More commonly, the Cold War was fought with espionage (spying), diplomatic maneuvering, and attempts to win over or even bully other nations.
    Communist nations were sometimes said to be living behind an “iron curtain.”  That phrase originally had a symbolic meaning.  But communist nations often had to erect actual barriers like the Berlin Wall to keep people from escaping out of the communist “paradise.”
    Throughout the decades of the struggle, the Cold War carried a very real risk of destroying all humanity in an exchange of thousands of nuclear missiles each side held ready for instant launch.
    In the 1980s, the conflict died out as Russian leaders faced up to the reality that communism was failing as an economic system.  By the end of the decade, it was collapsing as a political system, and the Cold War was over.

communism - a form of socialism that embraces revolution and the violent overthrow of the capitalist system.  Like other modern forms of socialism, it began in the mid-1800s as a reaction to the oppressive conditions often endured by workers as the Industrial Revolution spread in Europe and America.  Communists analyzed these conditions as a kind of “war” between the factory owning class and the factory labor class that was emerging at that time.
     Led by thinkers like Karl Marx, communists believed that these two classes would move farther apart until the working class revolted and seized control of the factories, farms, and mines.  Under communism, these would be owned collectively by the government and operated for the good of all.
    The world’s first communist revolution occurred in Russia in 1917, led by the Bolshevik Party.  After World War II, Russia forcibly extended the system over many of the countries of Eastern Europe.
    The writings of communist thinkers are often powerful in their appeal to an idealistic sense of social justice, as well as their expression of outrage over the condition of the world’s poor.  The actual experience of communist-controlled nations like Russia, China, and Cuba, however, has shown how easily the system slips into a pattern of dictatorship, murder, and oppression on a staggering scale.
    In the early 1990s, a large number of European countries, including Russia, threw off their communist governments in disgust over the general failure of the system to deliver on its promises.

conservation - the effort to preserve and protect wildlife and natural resources from destruction or erosion.  The movement dates back at least to 1872, when the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone, was created.  Theodore Roosevelt is famous for promoting public interest in conservation, and tripled the number of acres of land set aside for national forests.  In modern times, the term “environmental” has almost replaced “conservation” in the language.

containment - the common term for the U.S. policy after World War II aimed at stopping the spread of communism.  The policy was put into effect in many ways.  The Marshall Plan and other foreign aid programs were aimed at building strong economies in other countries, so people there would not be tempted by the promises of communist propaganda.  America became involved in wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Central America mainly to challenge attempts by communists to spread their system by violence.

D-Day - code name for the massive landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, France, in 1944 to reclaim Europe from domination by Germany.  Over 175,000 troops involved in the landing were carried across the English Channel to landing sites along 60 miles of  the French coast.
    Bad weather badly disrupted the Allied plans, but the landing caught the Germans by surprise.  By the end of August, American and British troops pushed across France to liberate Paris, and in September they crossed into Germany itself.
    The D-Day operation was under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was later elected president.

depression - a long and serious drop in a nation’s economy, usually accompanied by job layoffs and factory closings.  A less severe drop is called a recession.  The very severe drop of the 1930s is called the Great Depression.

Dust Bowl - a common name for the region around Oklahoma hit by severe drought and blowing dirt in the early 1930s.  The lack of rain killed crops,  leaving the soil exposed to wind erosion.  At times, “black blizzards” would darken the sky, and drifts of dirt would pile up against cars and houses.  Many farmers in the region packed up and headed to California, and were given the nickname, “Okies.”

Earhart, Amelia - the famous woman aviator whose courage and exploits inspired women of the 1930s.  In 1932 Earhart became the first women to pilot a plane across the Atlantic alone.  Other flying feats kept her in the headlines, and in 1937 she began an attempt to fly around the world.  Earhart, her navigator, and her twin-engine plane disappeared in the Pacific, however.
    While the circumstances are still debated, she apparently missed a small island where she planned to land.  A ship in the area heard radio messages that she was running out of fuel, but was unable to locate her.

Ellington, Duke - an African-American band leader and composer of jazz who rose to fame in the 1920s and 1930s.  He was one of the originators of “big band” jazz sound that led to the swing era in music.

Espionage Act/Sedition Act - two laws passed by Congress during World War I that were used to intimidate or jail critics of American involvement in the war.  (Espionage means spying; sedition means speaking or writing against the government.)
    Socialists and radical labor leaders were especially singled out for prosecution, and hundreds were given jail terms.  Newspapers and magazines critical of the war effort were denied the use of the postal service.
    The two laws are often cited as examples of the way the emotions of wartime can lead otherwise decent citizens and officials to support measures that violate citizens’ rights.

fascism - Fascism is the brutal and aggressive political theory that was developed in the 1920s by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and embraced by Adolf Hitler.  It features an almost maniacal worship of state power and the glorification of its leader.  War is seen as a good and natural outcome of a strong national spirit.  Political opponents are typically answered with arrests and beatings instead of arguments.  A strong emphasis is placed on maintaining order, and there is a strong suspicion of education and ideas that might challenge the government.
    Fascists typically argued that without this kind of strong government system, a nation would gradually weaken or become dominated by stronger countries.  Fascism was also seen by some supporters as a way to control the threat of communist political parties.
    Fascism and communism both feature strong central governments with almost total control over citizens, but fascists violently opposed communists as a threat to order and to wealthy business interests.
    As a philosophy of government, fascism is a kind of “counter revolution” against the ideas about liberty, government, and individual rights that have been growing in Europe and America for hundreds of years.  The destruction of fascist leaders and fascism itself was among the main goals of America and its allies in World War II.

Federal Reserve System - the national banking system set up by Woodrow Wilson in 1913 to improve the government’s ability to maintain a stable money supply.  The system was a key Progressive movement achievement because it took control of the nation’s banking system away from private individuals and put it under a mixture of government and private control.
    Among other measures, the new system set up a network of “banks for bankers” that could support a bank that got into temporary financial trouble.  It also provided a way of easily getting more money into circulation to meet the borrowing needs of businesses and farms.  The system still exists today, as anyone can see by examining a “Federal Reserve Note” in his or her wallet.

Federal Trade Commission - a federal agency established by Congress in 1914 with the power to investigate and stop unfair business practices.  The law is a good example of the Progressive movement’s efforts to expand the power of the federal government to regulate private business.  The commission did not take very strong action at the time against business problems, however, in part because people appointed to the commission often shared the views of big business themselves.  The commission still exists today, and deals with various business and consumer issues.

flappers - a term for young women of the 1920s who adopted a wild new style of clothing and behavior that included short skirts, short hair, and a determination to have a good time while the good times rolled.  At a time when tradition set a reserved and dignified style as the ideal for respectable young women, the flapper broke the pattern.

Great Migration - the movement of thousands of African-Americans from the South to northern cities that started during World War One.  As the armaments (weapons) factories expanded to meet the needs of the war, job shortages developed.  Blacks frustrated by race relations in the South were especially eager to take these jobs.  The migration continued into the 1920s and even beyond.
    The migration brought many new opportunities for African-Americans.  But it also brought cultural conflict with blacks already established in northern cities.  The Urban League was started as an organization to help the new arrivals adjust to the ways of big city life and also to deal with the problems caused by discrimination by whites.

Harlem Renaissance - a flowering of art, music, dance, and writing by African-Americans in New York City that began in the 1920s.  Harlem had become a large black neighborhood, and the excitement of the years after World War One helped spark the movement.  Poet Langston Hughes and the singer-actor Paul Robeson (of “Old Man River” fame) are among the names associated with the Harlem Renaissance.

Hitler, Adolf - the dictator who led Germany to brutal attacks on neighboring countries of Europe, starting World War II in 1939.  Hitler was born in Austria, but moved to Germany as a young man and served in World War I.  After the war, he rose to leadership position in the Nazi party, and began spreading his ideas about the racial superiority of the Germanic Aryan race.  At the same time, he preached hatred against Jews, and blamed them for the defeat of Germany in Word War I.
    Hitler’s political strength grew after 1930, when an economic crisis and the threat of a communist revolt convinced many Germans that he might give the strong leadership the nation needed.  By 1934 he had been given dictatorial powers by the German parliament. Over the next five years he rebuilt the armed forces, and began attacking neighboring countries with the purpose of uniting the Germanic peoples.
    Other countries of Europe had their own problems, and followed a policy of appeasement toward Hitler.  But when Germany attacked Poland in 1939, England and France declared war on Germany.  Before the war ended, over 36 million people were dead.  Hitler committed suicide in Berlin before he could be captured.

Holocaust - a common term for the murder of an estimated six million Jews in Europe by the Nazis during World War II.  Another six million people were also murdered, but  the term Holocaust usually refers to the deliberate effort to exterminate the Jews.
    The Holocaust had its roots in widespread anti- Semitism (prejudice against Jews) that had existed in Europe for many centuries.  Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party stirred up this existing prejudice to a deadly pitch during the 1930s by blaming Jews for the defeat of Germany in World War I.

Hoover, Herbert - the president of the U.S. when the Great Depression hit in 1930.  Hoover’s inability to solve the economic crisis brought the resentment of angry citizens who lost jobs and homes.  His name was adapted to create the term “Hoovervilles” for the shanty towns of unemployed people that sprang up outside many cities.  Pants pockets turned inside-out were termed “Hoover flags.”
    In fact, President Hoover did try to address the causes of the depression, mainly through programs to help businesses get back on their feet.  This, Hoover and many other leaders felt, would create jobs and end the crisis.  Hoover believed that getting the federal government directly involved in relief efforts for individuals would send the wrong message.
    Hoover was defeated in the 1932 election by the Democratic Party candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised new policies and said that the government had a “duty to see that no citizen shall starve.”

imperialism - Imperialism is the dominance or control of a weaker country by a stronger country for the stronger country’s benefit.
    In U.S. history, the charge of imperialism was made by critics after the Spanish-American War (1898) when America decided to keep control of the Philippines.  In the years since, America has sometimes been called “imperialist” by critics who point to instances when the nation used its power or prestige to influence affairs in other nations.
    With a few exceptions, however, America has shown a remarkable eagerness to avoid imperialism, and has sacrificed fortunes and lives to help other nations stand on their own feet as free societies.

income tax - a tax paid to the federal government on personal income.  The income tax was adopted in 1914 as a Progressive movement reform aimed at shifting more of the tax burden to wealthier Americans.  Although it was a small tax on the wealthy at the time, it has since grown to be a fairly hefty tax paid by most working Americans.  It is still a progressive tax, which means that the tax rate goes up on higher incomes.  Most middle class Americans today pay at a rate of about 15 percent of their total income.

isolationism - the belief that America should not get involved in trouble in other parts of the world.  This attitude was especially strong in the years before America got involved in World War I, and again in the years before World War II.  The attitude was especially strong in the 1930s because of the memory of the destruction caused by World War I.

Japanese American internment - the forced relocation of Japanese Americans living along the West Coast of the United States during World War II.  Those who could not move elsewhere on their own were moved to specially built camps away from the coastal areas.  There was a fear that Japanese spies could easily hide in the large Japanese American communities and report on ship movements.  Many Americans today consider this to be a disgraceful moment in American history, while others see it as an unfortunate but necessary action during wartime.  In the 1980s, Congress passed a law apologizing for the internment program, and gave $20,000 to each person who was forced to relocate to one of the camps.

Jungle, The - a famous book by Upton Sinclair that exposed shocking conditions in the meat packing industry in the early 1900s.  The book helped gain President Theodore Roosevelt’s support for passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Ku Klux Klan revival - the revival of the KKK in the 1910s and 1920s as racial tensions rose in the U.S. The KKK had faded after it and other groups succeeded in driving blacks out of politics in the South after the Civil War.  The new Klan was national in scope, and opposed immigrants, Catholics, and many other groups as well as blacks.
    In part, the revival was probably caused by fear that America was changing in ways that seemed threatening to the social position of native-born whites.  The Klan became a powerful political force in the 1920s, then faded after one of its top leaders was caught in a scandal.  It reappeared in the Civil Rights era, but faded again as its message of hate, delivered with white robes and burning crosses, ceased to attract followers.

globeLeague of Nations - the organization of nations that Woodrow Wilson proposed at the end of World War I as part of his Fourteen Point Plan.  He called it “the only hope of mankind.”  The League was formed, but the U.S. did not join, in part because of a return of isolationist views in America.  Most Americans simply wanted to avoid getting involved in European affairs.
    As the world drifted toward another world war in the 1930s, the League proved unable or unwilling to take serious steps to deal with the actions of Italy and Germany.  After World War II, the United Nations was formed as an international organization, with the U.S. a leading member.

Lend-lease - a program pushed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 to “loan”  supplies and weapons to countries fighting against Germany.  England was especially desperate for help, and was running out of money.  Congress approved the plan, which allowed America to exchange war materials for the right to use certain Allied military bases.   By the end of the war, the U.S. contributed over $50 billion in supplies and equipment, some of which was eventually repaid by the recipient countries.

Lindbergh, Charles - the first man to fly an airplane alone across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris.  “Lucky Lindy” became a national celebrity after the 1927 flight.  His instant popularity reflects the 1920s taste of the era for anything daring, risky and bold.

Lusitania - the famous British ship sunk by a German U-Boat (submarine) in 1915.  Almost 1,200 lives were lost,  including 128 Americans.  The outcry helped shift public opinion in America against Germany and toward involvement in World War I.  Germany defended its action with the claim that the ship was carrying arms as well as passengers.

Manhattan Project - the code name during World War II for the American effort to develop an atomic bomb.  Much of the work was done at the specially created secret cities of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Two of the bombs created by the project were used against Japanese cities to end the war.

Marshall Plan - the plan adopted by the United States after World War II to help European nations get back on their feet.  The plan was proposed in 1947 by Secretary of State George C. Marshall.  Conditions in Europe had grown desperate, and American leaders feared this would make them easy targets for a takeover by communist political parties.
    Under the plan, America donated billions of dollars of money, food, supplies, and machinery to European countries.  The Marshall Plan was a great success, and is considered one of America’s finest humanitarian efforts.

Model T - the most famous of the early automobiles developed by Henry Ford.  It was introduced in 1908, and became a hit with buyers who nicknamed it the “Tin Lizzie.”  The car was built on a moving assembly line system, which enabled Ford to sell the car at a very low price, at one point under $300.

monopolies/trusts - A monopoly is a business that has total or almost total control of the market for a product.  A trust is form of business organization in which several companies are joined and managed as if they were one giant company, often creating a monopoly.  They are generally illegal today, but were common in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  To form a trust, shareholders of several companies turn over their shares to "trustees" who manage and coordinate the separate companies.  The trust has more power to bargain with suppliers and create efficient, large-scale industries.  It can also avoid the costs of competition.
    Consumers, workers, and other competitors, however, are often hurt.  Trusts often became actual or near monopolies, drove smaller firms out of business, and “fixed” prices.  The Standard Oil trust is often cited as an example of this pattern.  Many trusts also bribed politicians to gain special legislation or otherwise benefit their interests. 
    The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) was an early, but not very successful, attempt to control abusive trusts.  After 1900 Congress began passing laws that were more effective, and federal courts forced some trusts to split up into separate competing companies.

Mother Jones - the affectionate nickname given by miners to Mary Harris Jones, a union organizer in the late 1800s and early 1900s who fought for the rights of workers.  Jones was an Irish immigrant whose husband, an iron worker, died in 1867.  She became involved in the labor movement in the 1870s, and traveled to mining camps around the country to speak for miners’ rights.
    Later, she made child labor a cause, and once led a group of children on a march from the coal regions of Pennsylvania to New York City.
    While she was feared by some as a fiery radical at the turn of the century, her work in a just cause drew wide applause in her later years.  An estimated 50,000 people attended her funeral when she died in 1930.

muckrakers - reporters and writers in the late 1800s and early 1900s who exposed problems in American society like child labor, sweatshops, corruption in politics, and dangerous food.  Jacob Riis (How the Other Half Lives), Ida Tarbell (The History of the Standard Oil Company), and Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) are among the most famous.  Today they would be called investigative reporters.

Mussolini, Benito  - the dictator who seized power in Italy in 1922 as head of the Fascist Party.  Mussolini liked to boast that he would make the Mediterranean Sea into an “Italian lake.”  By that he meant he would expand Italy into an empire large enough to rival ancient Rome.  Italians were swept by his theatrical speeches and assurances that Italy would once again be a great power.  Like Hitler, he rose to power by playing off of fears caused by the chaotic conditions and economic problems caused by World War I.
    In 1935 Italy attacked Ethiopia, and made it Italian territory the next year.  Mussolini led Italy into the Axis alliance with Hitler that soon plunged the entire world into World War II.  He was killed when he tried to flee the country as the Allied army liberated Italy.

NAACP - the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, formed in 1909 to fight racism and discrimination against African-Americans.  The organization was founded by W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent black leader, Ida B. Wells, a famous black woman journalist, and others.  The organization favored taking a more active stand against segregation and other unfair treatment.  It remains the best known civil rights organization in the U.S.

NATO - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  NATO was formed in 1949 as a defensive alliance by the U.S., Canada, and many European countries worried about the threat of the Soviet Union.  In this alliance, the member nations pledged that an attack against one would be considered an attack against all.
    During the Cold War, NATO was the main military coordinating body of the nations that opposed the spread of communism.  Even with the collapse of communism in Russia and its satellite countries, NATO remains an important force in world affairs.

Nazi - the political party that carried Adolf Hitler to power in Germany in the 1930s.  It is short for National Socialist German Workers’ Party.  The party name is somewhat misleading, however.  While the Nazis and socialists both sought a central government with wide powers, the Nazi political philosophy was actually fascism.  (Nazis, for example, did not seek government ownership of industry, as socialists generally favored.)  Under Hitler, the Nazi government of Germany became a totalitarian state, that is, a state where the government totally controls most aspects of life.

New Deal, The - the name for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s social and economic programs aimed at ending the Great Depression.  The programs represented a great change in the role of the federal government in American life.  During these years, for example, the government became directly involved in creating jobs for millions of unemployed people.  It instituted the first system of national “social insurance,” called Social Security. It began to manage, on a national scale, the output of the nation’s farms.  New laws set limits on the length of the work week.
    Critics felt this greatly expanded role for the federal government was a dangerous trend that undermined the classic American ideals of self-reliance and liberty.  Supporters, however, argued that without the changes created by the New Deal, the American democracy and the system of capitalism might have collapsed altogether.

Panama Canal - the canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that crosses the Isthmus of Panama.  President Theodore Roosevelt counted construction of the canal as one of his great accomplishments.
    The idea for the canal dates back to about 1850, and a French company started digging in 1878.  But the hot climate, swamps, snakes, and mosquitoes proved too much.  In 1903, the U.S. signed a treaty with Colombia and agreed to pay for the right to build the canal on the isthmus, which at the time was part of Colombia.  A new government there, however, canceled the treaty.  Disappointed Panamanians rebelled against the Colombian government, and formed an independent Panama.
    The U.S. did not participate directly in the revolution, but Roosevelt did send American warships to the area as a show of force.  Within days, the U.S. recognized the new country of Panama, and quickly agreed to pay $10 million for the right to build the canal.
    Construction took 10 years, and was the greatest engineering feat in history at the time.  The project greatly strengthened America’s position in the world, but many Latin American countries thought America had “bullied” Colombia by indirectly supporting the revolt in Panama.
    As a show of friendship toward Latin America, the U.S. agreed in the 1970s to transfer ownership of the canal back to Panama at the end of the century.

Pearl Harbor - location of an important U.S. naval base in the Hawaiian Islands.  The base was attacked by the Japanese without warning on December 7, 1941.  Five U.S. battleships were destroyed, but luckily the fleet’s aircraft carriers were at sea.  The raid killed over 2,000 Americans, and gave the Japanese a short period in which they extended their area of conquest in the Pacific.  But the attack led to America’s immediate entry into World War II, and ultimately the defeat of Japan.

Progressive movement - the movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s that led to widespread reforms in laws affecting child labor, food safety, taxation, workplace safety, and many other issues.  President Theodore Roosevelt is perhaps the best known figure associated with the movement, which included a wide mix of political leaders, labor union organizers, religious leaders, businessmen, and women active in social issues.
    The movement was rooted in the work of a religious movement usually called “social Christianity” or “the social gospel” that grew in the decades before 1900.  This movement spread the belief that saving souls had to involve not just Sunday preaching but also the solving of problems that dragged people into poverty and despair.
    Many Progressives also believed that big business had gained far too great an advantage over the average working person, and that laws were needed to provide safe working conditions and living wages.  Most felt that the government should step in to regulate work hours and conditions, and take action on other social problems as well.
    The Progressive movement gave rise to the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party, which ran Roosevelt for president (unsuccessfully) in 1912.  In spite of his defeat, many of the ideas generated by the Progressives later became law in the U.S.

Prohibition - the period from 1920 to 1933 when alcoholic drinks were made illegal in the U.S. by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  The drive to ban alcohol actually dates back to the early 1800s and the rise of the temperance movement.  Supporters of the movement felt alcohol was a leading factor in crime, child abuse, and violence against women.  The effort got a powerful boost with the organization of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and other religious groups.
    Although the use of alcohol did fall during Prohibition, the ban led to the rise of illegal bars called speakeasies in many cities.  Bootleggers (smugglers) kept supplies moving, and the illegal trade led to the rise of gangsters like Al Capone.  Fear that the “noble experiment” was causing such serious problems led to the Twenty-first Amendment, which ended Prohibition in 1933.

Pure Food and Drug Act - a law passed by Congress in 1906 that placed regulations on the manufacturing of prepared foods and some medicines.  The law, along with the Meat Inspection Act, was passed as writers and scientists exposed shocking facts about the way food and drugs were prepared and sold.  It ranks among the most important of the laws associated with the Progressive movement.  It has been greatly strengthened in the decades since.

rationing - the system set up during World War II to make sure goods in short supply were available equally to all at fair prices.  Purchases of about twenty products including sugar, meat, coffee, butter, and gasoline were controlled with special government coupons.  The coupons had to be turned in as the items were purchased.  The system is a good example of one way Americans on the “home front” shared the sacrifices needed to help win the war.

Red scare - a common term for any period of heightened fear of communist activity or influence in American life.  After World War II, evidence surfaced in Canada and the U.S. of communist spies working within government offices.  In the U.S., a large-scale investigation from 1947 to 1951 led to the dismissal of over 200 government employees as possible security risks.  Almost three thousand others resigned, some in protest of the secret nature of the investigations.  Any  organization that had communist connections was ordered to register with the U.S. government.
    Americans at the time were deeply divided about the proper response to communism.  American tradition has always favored free speech and the right to organize for political causes.  On the other hand, the communist movement had as its ultimate goal the violent overthrow of capitalist democracies like the U.S.  While only a tiny number of Americans were ever attracted to communism, they seemed to pose a much larger threat than their numbers.
    When evidence surfaced that atomic bomb secrets were being given by spies to the Russians, it touched off even greater fears.  In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin exploited these fears with claims that he had evidence of even more extensive activity by communist spies in high-ranking positions.  His claims were later exposed as fraudulent, but for several years few dared criticize his investigations for fear of being falsely labeled a traitor.

reparations - payments that Germany was forced to pay by France and England after World War I for the war damages it had caused.  The sum of money - 32 billion dollars - was so large that it was impossible for Germany to pay the full amount without badly weakening its own economic recovery.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano - president of the U.S. during the Great Depression and most of World War II.  Through the creation of the New Deal agencies and programs like Social Security, FDR brought about sweeping changes in the role of the federal government in American life that are still felt today.
    FDR began his career in New York state politics in 1910.  In spite of an attack of polio that left him with braces on his legs, he was elected governor of New York in 1928.  As the Great Depression began, he led the creation of relief programs for people in that state hit with job loss.
    His willingness to try such measures was a big factor in his election in 1932 as president.  He promised a “New Deal” to address the problems of soaring unemployment and factory closings.  Once in office, he set to work creating an “alphabet soup” of agencies like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Public Works Administration (PWA) to create jobs and boost the economy.
    During this time, the “fire side chats” he delivered to the people by radio helped calm the fear that gripped much of America.  His wife, Eleanor, became famous for traveling the country to see the conditions that resulted from the depression.  Her role as a politically active First Lady inspired a generation of young women.
    As Germany’s power grew under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government, Roosevelt watched and spoke of keeping Americans out of war.  But when the Second World War began in 1939, he pushed for aid to England.  With the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR assumed a key leadership role with the heads of the other Allied nations, including England’s Winston Churchill.  Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term in 1945, but died in April of that year.

Roosevelt, Theodore - president of the U.S. from 1901 to 1909.  Roosevelt is famous as the first president to challenge the power of the industrial giants, and was nicknamed the “trust buster.”
    Roosevelt came from a wealthy New York family.  As a young man, he devoted himself to outdoor activities and exercise to overcome a sickly physical condition.  He went into law, then politics, and became a leader of Republicans in New York state.  He made a name for himself as a reformer who opposed the frequently corrupt “political machine” politics common in the late 1800s.
    When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Roosevelt formed a volunteer unit called the Rough Riders.  The unit had only a minor role in the fighting in Cuba, but Roosevelt’s style of flamboyant leadership made him something of a legend.  Back in New York, Roosevelt was elected governor.  He was elected vice-president in 1900, and became president when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
    As president, Roosevelt moved to expand the federal government’s power to take steps against corporations that had formed into trusts and other forms of monopoly.  He revived the  almost-forgotten Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and brought suit against several dozen corporations.
    In another action, he got involved in the bitter United Mine Workers strike of 1902.  His action to force the mine owners to reach a compromise with the union was the first time a president used his power on behalf of workers in a labor dispute.
    Roosevelt used a proverb to illustrate his approach to foreign affairs:  “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  In order to get control of land the U.S. needed to build the Panama Canal, he openly encouraged a revolt by Panamanians from Colombia, which was stalling the project.  His “big stick” in this case consisted of American warships sent to the region as a quiet but effective show of force.
    Roosevelt had made a promise not to seek another term, and stepped down in 1909 after helping his vice-president, William Taft, win the White House.  Differences between the men led Roosevelt to challenge Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912.  Roosevelt was unable to win the nomination, however, and decided to run as the nominee of the Progressive Party.  The party platform was notable for its call for sweeping reforms in America, including proposals to create new government regulations to protect workers.
    Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the three-way contest.  Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919.

Rosie the Riveter - a poster figure of a woman working at an aircraft factory who became a symbol of the women who entered the American workforce during World War II.  Some five million women went to work, many at steel mills and factories that involved heavy physical labor.
    The depiction of such women in posters showed an affectionate respect for their work, although in some cases women were met with resentment from men on the job site.  After the war, most of these women returned home, often to become the wives of returning servicemen.  But their experience in the workplace helped shape new attitudes toward women working in non-traditional jobs.

Sanger, Margaret - a nurse and social worker who fought for the right to distribute information about birth control in the 1910s and 1920s.  Her work landed her in jail briefly, but she continued her efforts and started the organization that later became Planned Parenthood.
    Sanger took up the cause of birth control after working as a nurse in poor neighborhoods in New York City.  She found that many women were eager for information on how to limit the size of their families, but at the time, a national anti-pornography law was often interpreted as prohibiting contraception publications.  (A federal court struck down that interpretation in the 1930s.)
    Sanger expanded her efforts to the international level as well, and worked to bring birth control information to India and other countries.

Scopes Trial - a famous court case in Tennessee in 1925 over the teaching of evolution in public schools.  The case pit traditional religious views against modern science in a contest that often took on a circus atmosphere as it attracted a worldwide audience.
    The case began when a part-time teacher named John Scopes agreed to make a “test case” against a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools.  Many religious people at the time believed the theory directly attacked the account of creation in the Bible, and therefore undermined moral values based on biblical teaching.
    The most famous lawyer of the time, Clarence Darrow, agreed to defend Scopes and the right of teachers to teach the theory.  A famous political leader, William Jennings Bryan, signed on to help the state argue its case.  Darrow’s questioning of Bryan in court attempted to show that the Bible’s account of the creation of the world in six days did not have to be interpreted literally as six 24 hour days.
    Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.  On appeal, however, Scopes was cleared on a legal technicality.  The Tennessee law against teaching about the  theory of evolution was repealed in 1967.

Social Security - the system of social insurance adopted during the Great Depression to provide income for retired people, widows, orphans, and others who were unable to work.  The Social Security Act was passed by Congress in 1935.  It marks a milestone in American history because the country clearly accepted the view that a modern industrial society should take responsibility for helping citizens who cannot work.

socialism - an economic system in which factories, farms, and mines are owned by the government, rather than by individuals.  Prices and wages are typically controlled by the government, which also makes decisions about what should be produced.
    Socialism in its modern form developed as a reaction to the harsh conditions endured by workers in the 1800s.  Throughout that century, the Industrial Revolution and the growth of large-scale businesses were transforming the nature of the workplace.  Socialists argued that low pay and bad working conditions common at the time were a result of the system of capitalism, which they said encouraged a heartless competition for wealth.  They wanted to replace capitalism with a more cooperative system that removed the incentive for individuals to pile up vast wealth at the expense of others. 
    An early form of the cooperative approach was seen in the Utopian societies that formed in America.  By the late 1800s, however, other socialist thinkers had emerged with a far larger vision:  that of moving America itself toward socialism.  The Socialist Party ran candidates for public office in the early 1900s, with one candidate for president, Eugene Debs, pulling almost a million votes in one election.
    Socialists proved to be talented dreamers and writers, and some of their ideas for reforms were adopted later by other political parties.  But they were never able to convince large numbers of Americans to abandon their hope of finding wealth in the system of capitalism.
    The radical form of socialism known as communism, which seeks a violent overthrow of the capitalist system, never attracted more than a very small number of Americans.  In the 1980s, the collapse of communism in Russia and elsewhere seemed to many Americans proof that socialist systems are simply incompatible with human nature.

Stock Market Crash - the rapid fall in stock market prices in October 1929 that signaled a crisis in the American business world and helped lead to the Great Depression.  The worst day, October 29, was called "Black Tuesday."  Within a matter of weeks, billions of dollars of stock value had collapsed.
    The crash was the result of the preceding run-up of prices in a pattern that economists sometimes call a "bubble."  In this pattern, investors see prices rising rapidly, and buy without really considering the underlying profit situation of the companies themselves.  Instead, investors focus on the hope that even absurdly high prices will go up even more, creating a chance to sell the stock at an even higher price to someone else.  Eventually, of course, the bubble must burst.
    The stock market bubble grew rapidly in the late 1920s for several reasons.  America's economy was booming through much of the decade, creating great confidence that the boom would continue.  Laws at the time allowed investors to "buy on the margin," meaning they could buy stocks with borrowed money.  In addition, the lack of reliable information about the finances of corporations made it hard to know whether a particular stock was worth the price.
    In the years since the crash, laws have been tightened on companies that issue stock for purchase by investors.  Companies must publish accurate information about their financial picture, and follow approved accounting practices.  In addition, the ability to invest using borrowed money has been sharply limited.

Truman, Harry S. - president of the U.S. as World War II ended.  Truman, who came to office on the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.
    After the war, he put forth what became known as the “Truman Doctrine.”  This policy declared that the U.S. would come to the aid of nations threatened by communist takeover.  As such, it was an example of America’s policy of containment of communism.
    One example of Truman’s commitment to support free governments came in Berlin in 1948.  The capital city, like Germany itself, had been divided into four zones, each under the control of one of the major Allied powers involved in World War II.  While most of the Allies wanted to see Germany restored to independence, Russia wanted to keep its section under communist control.  It decided to block all highways into Berlin, which was located in their section.
    Truman ordered an airlift of food and supplies into the city.  The Berlin Airlift continued night and day for ten months.  Finally, the Russians backed down, although they continued to control East Germany and part of Berlin for another 40 years.
    Truman also supported the decision of the United Nations to come to the aid of South Korea when it was attacked by North Korea in 1950.  The stalemate that developed hurt Truman politically, however, and he did not seek reelection in 1952.
    In the U.S., Truman proposed new civil rights laws to help African - Americans, and called for other progressive measures like government supported medical insurance.  Most of these efforts were blocked by Congress, but many became law in later years.

trusts - see monopolies/trusts, above.

United Nations - the international organizations of nations formed as World War II ended.  The UN was intended to serve as a forum for nations to discuss their disagreements, rather than resorting to war.  The main U.N. offices are in New York City.

Wright, Wilbur and Orville - the two brothers from Ohio who developed the first successful airplane in 1903. The brothers were bicycle mechanics and had built up a successful business.  They also spent years working with kites and wing shapes to understand the physics of flight.  Their first powered airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and now hangs in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Wilson, Woodrow - president from 1913 to 1921, he brought America into World War I and proposed the formation of the League of Nations when the war ended.  Wilson was born in Virginia, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and showed though his life and presidency a strong sense of justice and duty to humanity.
    Much of his life was spent in academic circles, and he became president of Princeton University in 1902.  He became involved in politics as a reform-minded Democrat, and won the three-way race for president in 1912.
    Many of the reform efforts Wilson supported involved money and big business.  He pushed for creation of the Federal Reserve System to bring the nation’s money supply and banking system under better control.  He supported the creation of a new income tax, which shifted more of the tax burden onto wealthier Americans.  He also supported creation of the Federal Trade Commission, which had the power to investigate wrong doing by big corporations.
    Wilson hoped to keep America out of World War I as that deadly struggle began in 1914.  But continued attacks on passenger ships by German U-Boats (submarines) convinced him to ask for a declaration of war in 1917.  American soldiers fresh from training arrived to boost the nearly exhausted troops of the Allies, and helped defeat Germany on the battlefields of northern France.
    At the peace conference, Wilson came with his Fourteen Points plan to help eliminate the causes that had led to the war in the first place.  These included an end to secret treaties and a reduction of military forces. 
    The last point called for creation of a League of Nations.  But many leaders in the U.S. Senate opposed involving America in the proposed League, and argued that America should keep its traditional policy of steering clear of involvement in European affairs.
    Wilson was determined to fight for approval of the League, but had a stroke and became partially paralyzed while touring the country to win support for the plan.  The Senate never approved the treaty containing the League of Nations, and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany in 1921.  Wilson died that same year.

woman suffrage - the formal term for women’s voting rights.  The organized movement to win woman suffrage dates back to the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York state.  The movement advanced during the late 1800s with the work of suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony.  It was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress to give women full voting rights, although some states did grant women limited voting rights earlier.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 1999, 2015 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.