The Roaring Twenties: Big business, pleasure-seeking, and daily life in Morris County

Library Exhibit on display in the F.M. Kirby Gallery for the remainder of the year. See it before it disappears!

Jersey Theater at night, Washington Street, Morristown, Oct. 9,1926


By Jeffrey V. Moy and James Lewis

America of the 1920s conjures images of smartly dressed men and women in formal wear, flappers and vibrant jazz bands in speakeasies, fast cars, exuberant stock markets and the birth of Hollywood’s golden age.

However, while modern society changed rapidly for many, this only tells part of the story for the decade that started with the end of the Great War and a worldwide pandemic, and ended with the turmoil unleashed by the 1929 stock market crash and the resulting Great Depression.

Morris County’s version of this story is vividly displayed in the F.M. Kirby Gallery on the second floor of the Morristown & Township Library. The exhibition concludes this month.

Taxi Drivers and their Cabs near the Morristown Railroad Station, Dec. 11. 1922. Photo taken by Frederick R. Curtiss.

In many aspects, Morris County was a microcosm of how the Twenties affected Americans.  A number of illicit clubs and gambling halls operated with impunity, corrupt officials squared off against good governance reformers, a growing middle-class bought new homes and automobiles on credit, and everyone sought new and exciting entertainment options, which were ubiquitous thanks to many fads, films, and radio programs.

Women listening to their radio. Photo by Frederick R. Curtiss.

Life changed dramatically in other areas as well.  A rising Black middle class joined the ranks of other new homeowners and exercised newfound economic influence. Women enjoyed new careers and less domestic drudgery thanks to labor saving devices and smaller families. Cinema-goers wondered at foreign vistas, and others enjoyed traveling to new destinations.

A woman using her Thor Washer. Photo taken by Frederick R. Curtiss.

One of the closer destinations was Mt. Freedom, home of Jewish hotels and resorts. Lake Hopatcong was another popular destination for New Yorkers and New Jerseyans.

In embracing the modern era, Morris County’s residents sought to reform corrupt policies. They pursued new business opportunities and searched for novel leisure activities, enjoyed the tranquility of domestic life, and strove for ever-faster means of transportation.

The North Jersey History and Genealogy Center thanks the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Metro-West NJ, the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum and the  Randolph Museum for their assistance with this exhibition.