It’s now officially the ’20s. If you have any real notion of the 1920s, it’s a fancified, fictionalized version from The Great Gatsby or other works of fiction. You might think you know the ’20s as an era rift with gangsters, bootleg liquor, machine guns and jazz. Of course that’s what we all think of, but the real 1920s was a different time.
People moved out of the cities
Spurred on by cheap cars, people moved out of the cities and formed the first suburbs. Once there, they didn’t grow their own food like people outside the cities did a generation ago. They built homes and hoped to live happily ever after.
Rise of the “kit home”
When we think of a retailer that has everything, we think today of Amazon. But back in the early 20th century, that title belongs to Sears. They sold everything for a modern home… even the home! Sears sold several models of home in the 1910s. Some of them may look familiar to you from this archive page. There is some speculation that the term “craftsman home” may have originated or at least become more popular due to the term “craftsman” being associated with Sears.
These houses were delivered in boxes and you built them yourself sort of like giant IKEA furniture. People back then were more handy in general, I guess.
Get to know the pop culture of the ’20s
YouTube preserves everything, and one example is this Buster Keaton film from 1920, One Week. In it, the two main characters get married and try to put up a kit home. For reasons that aren’t really clear, some other guy doesn’t want them to do it and he sabotages everything. As they used to say, hilarity ensues.
This is a great example of the real 1920s, where honest folks just tried to make a life for themselves in a more rural setting. And it gives you the opportunity to get to know Buster Keaton. Mr. Keaton was a pioneer in the world of movies. Doing his own stunts, he brought the vaudeville style of physical comedy to movies in a way no one else had.
Mr. Keaton was a scant 25 years old when this film was made. His physical comedy style was still being refined, as it would continue to be throughout the 1920s. He continued to work fairly consistently until his death in 1966, but he is best known for his silent films.
What would “One Week” look like in the 2020s?
This film is now 100 years old. It shows us life at a time when things were really different from what they are now. Imagine a 25-year-old driving up to an empty lot and building a house from scratch today! Unquestionably there are those who could do it but they’re a rarity.
Instead, I imagine this being a short film about someone who wants to become instafamous by chronicling their attempt to build a house from scratch. It would be funny now too, and the house would probably fall down without some outside character sabotaging it.
Who knows what one week in the 2120s will look like?