Today in History

Today in History: August 3

Calvin Coolidge

After all, the chief business of the American people is business.

President Calvin Coolidge,
address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors,
Washington, D.C., January 17, 1925.
Foundations of the Republic (1926), 187.

Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing front, holding pen and paper, wearing black armband in mourning for President Harding,
Washington, D.C.,
August 4, 1923.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Calvin Coolidge took the presidential oath of office on August 3, 1923, after the unexpected death in office of President Warren Harding. The new president inherited an administration plagued and discredited by corruption scandals. In the two remaining years of this term, Coolidge, long recognized for his own frugality and moderation, worked to restore the administration's image and regain the public’s trust.  He went on to win the presidential election of 1924 in his own right.

Coolidge believed that government should interfere as little as possible with business and industry. His administration supported tax reductions for U.S. businesses as well as high protective tariffs in support of U.S. goods—which were being produced in greater quantities than ever before. Technological and managerial innovations, improvements in the methods of production, and growing distribution networks made consumer items more generally available.  Many Americans purchased cars and radios, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines—taking advantage of increasingly obtainable consumer credit.

Vacuum Cleaners on Display at the J.C. Harding & Co. Store
Vacuum cleaners on display at the J. C. Harding & Co. Store, probably in Washington, D.C.,
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Raleigh Haberdasher Show Window
Raleigh Haberdasher show window
Washington, D.C., circa 1925.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Automobiles in Window of the Washington-Cadillac Co.
Automobiles in window of the Washington-Cadillac Co.,
Washington, D.C., 1927.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Some groups did not participate fully in the emergent consumer economy, notably both African-American and white farmers as well as immigrants. While one-fifth of the American population made their living on the land, rural poverty was widespread. Despite agricultural overproduction and successive attempts in Congress to provide relief, the agricultural economy of the 1920s experienced an ongoing depression. Large surpluses were accompanied by falling prices at a time when American farmers were burdened by heavy debt. Between 1920 and 1932, one in four farms was sold to meet financial obligations and many farmers migrated to urban areas.

Restrictive immigration laws, aided by a resurgence of nativism in America in the 1920s, contributed to an atmosphere hostile to immigrants. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The National Origins Act of 1924 completely excluded Japanese and other Asian immigrants and further reduced those admitted from southern and eastern Europe.

Visitin' 'Round at Coolidge Corners
Visitin' 'Round at Coolidge Corners,
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

The economic growth of the 1920s spurred the rise of consumer organizations and campaigns. Some, such as the Truth-in-Advertising Movement, which pursued ethics and self-regulation in advertising, were industry-based. Other campaigns and organizations sought to educate consumers. The Better Homes Movement celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration in towns and cities across the country. The Thrift Movement sought to teach children and citizens how to save and spend wisely. Stuart Chase worked to educate consumers about unfair advertising and pricing practices used by manufacturers of consumer products. Lastly, there were campaigns such as the Playground Movement which began in response to popular anxieties about material excess, misuse of leisure time, and the loss of traditional values.

Learn more about Calvin Coolidge and his era:

Christopher Columbus

Replica of Santa Maria
Replica of Santa Maria,
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

If the winds are favorable the distance is traveled quickly; but no one must start without being sure of the weather, and this assurance can be obtained by observing the sky, and finding out that this is very clear and that the wind comes from the side of the northern star, and blows for some days always in the same direction.

William Eleroy Curtis [introduction], The Authentic Letters of Columbus (Chicago: Field Columbian Museum, May 1895), I, no. 2:125.

Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, February 6, 1502

On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on his first voyage to what came to be known as the New World. With three ships and a crew of ninety, Columbus hoped to find a western route to the Far East. Instead, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed in the Bahama Islands.

Christopher Columbus set sail in an era of maritime advances, charting his route with the aid of a mariner's compass, an astrolabe, a cross-staff, and a quadrant. The most popular map for mariners at the time was Ptolemy's Geography or Cosmography, printed in 1482 but originally compiled by the Alexandrian geographer, astronomer, and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy in the second century A.D.

World Map, in Germanus, 1482
World Map,
In [Donnus Nicolaus Germanus] Cosmographia, Claudius Ptolemaeus Ulm, 1482.
Thacher Collection.
Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Early on the morning of October 12, 1492, a crew member spotted land. At daylight, Columbus went ashore and planted the flag of his sponsors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní. Columbus eventually created a base of operations for his first and second trips on the island the Europeans called Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Columbus' remains are believed to have been buried in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic following his death in 1506.