A Piece of History

The year 1924 was a time of optimism and prosperity in America as the country finally began to emerge from the economic and social hardships of the Great War. Americans were buying Ford automobiles, made affordable by mass production, and they suddenly needed radios for their homes, as RCA and other broadcasters began to expand their programming. In October, when the Dimock tournament began, Buster Keaton's great comedy "The Navigator" opened to wide acclaim, the latest Hollywood box office hit of the silent film era. Though a record drought had fed wildfires in the surrounding suburbs, New Yorkers were happy to bask in the pleasant dry weather of Indian Summer, which lasted for almost the entire tournament.


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It was a positive and upbeat time when most Americans still believed in their economic, religious, political, and legal institutions despite signs of stress. The public had been partly shielded from the scandals of Warren G. Harding's presidency by his sudden death in office, and they very quickly adopted his successor Calvin Coolidge as their own. Coolidge would be re-elected by a landslide just as the second round of the Dimock tournament began on November 4, defeating the now forgotten John W. Davis (the Democrat's compromise candidate). In New York politics, the popular incumbent Alfred E. Smith defeated Theodore Roosevelt (the son of the late president, who refused the addition of "Jr." to his name) for the governorship of the state. Smith would run unsuccessfully for president four years later. By November 7, the day after Torre defeated Marshall in their second game, the stock market had hit a five year high with a record 2.3 million traded shares, inaugurating one of the greatest stock market booms of all time.

This was the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, and the height of Prohibition. It was the period of hope and promise that would be depicted in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (published the following year).

Street scenes show life in
New York
City in 1924, a period of
great prosperity and optimism.

The period saw the clash between a nostalgic dogmatism and a progressive embrace of science and new ideas. In the art world, this meant the rise of modern art opposed by the protectors of classical aesthetics. In science, the advance of Darwinism opposed by creationism (played out in the Scopes trial of 1925). And in the world of chess, this conflict would be symbolized by the classical principles of players like Lasker, Capablanca, and Marshall against the rising success of the new generation, which included Alekhine and Reti, whose hypermodern approach to the game seemed to violate longheld principles. In The New York International Tournament, these five players would finish in the top spots of the tournament. By the following year, at Baden-Baden 1925 (won by Alekhine), Moscow 1925 (won by Bogoljubow), and Marienbad 1925 (won by Nimzovich), the younger players would come into their own and the hypermodern period would be fully under way. In a sense, 1924 was a liminal moment, halfway between Capablanca's 1921 defeat of Lasker for the World Championship and his loss to Alekhine in 1927. Siegbert Tarrasch's The Game of Chess (with its embrace of the classical principles set forth by Steinitz) was soon to be replaced by Aron Nimzovich's My System as the Bible for the new generation of players.

Seen against the backdrop of the coming changes in the game and in the world, the Dimock Theme Tournament's 19th Century opening might seem rather nostalgic, harkening back to a more romantic period when swashbuckling tactics and speculative sacrifices were the order of the day. If the tournament was conceived out of nostalgia, however, it nonetheless helped to bring these old fashioned openings into the present day of careful, scientific analysis. That it featured a contest between Frank Marshall, who was, according to Max Euwe,"one of the leaders of a group of tacticians who remained faithful to the chess of the 19th Century -- the golden age of combination," and the young Carlos Torre, whose name would become associated with hypermodern openings like the Two Knights Tango and the Torre Attack, seems therefore especially fitting. The Dimock Theme Tournament brought together the old and the young, so that this romantic opening could be revised for the modern era.

Links to Online Resources about the 1920s

For more information on the history of the 1920s, visit some of the following links:

Chess in 1924 by Edward Winter
An excellent survey of everything that was going on in the chess world at the time of this event.

American Cultural History, 1920-1929
A useful guide to research on the 1920s, with references to books and useful facts about the period.

A Biography of America: The Twenties
A web site to support the television documentary.

Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events, 1920-1924
A great chronology of literary highlights with links to online texts.

Calvin Coolidge
Harding's successor is much better remembered, and even has a large web site devoted to his life and leadership.

Economic History -- The Roaring 20s
Excellent coverage of the economic growth during this period.

Films of 1924
From the Internet Movie Database.

Films Depicting the 1920s

F. Scott Fitzgerald Centennary
A site developed by the University of South Carolina to celebrate Fitzgerald's 100th birthday.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)
Great collection of Fitzgerald's stories about the 1920s from the MSU Libraries.

The Great Gatsby's site devoted to Fitzgerald's novel, includes chapter summaries.

The Great Gatsby
The text of Fitzgerald's 1925 novel.

The Great Gatsby Website
A page devoted to the novel.

The Life of Henry Ford
A biography of the important automobile maker and tycoon from the Henry Ford Museum.

Leopold & Loeb by Marilyn Bardsley
The 20s were ironically a period of both great social restriciton (including Prohibition) and incredible lawlessness. The story of Leopold and Loeb's unmotivated kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks is perhaps the best remembered example of the threat of lawlessness that the 20s confronted. The sentence for the crime was handed down in the late summer of 1924 and was likely still the subject of conversation at the time the Dimock Tournament began in the Fall.

The Lawless Decade, by Paul Sann
With prohibition came a rise in crime and law enforcement during the 1920s, which this web site documents.

The online Picasso Project.

The Teapot Dome Scandal
The Teapot Dome was probably the most significant political scandal of the early 20th century and could have brought an end to Warren G. Harding's presidency if he had not died in office.

Twenties Reconstruction Society
Not the easiest site to navigate, but one full of interesting information and images about the automobiles, music, and social life (including Prohibition) of the twenties.

Scopes Trial Home Page
Great web site devoted to the legal aspects of the "Monkey Trial" case, where the question of whether Darwin or the Bible should dominate school biology curriculum was first addressed.

The Scopes "Monkey Trial"
A site devoted to the "media circus" around this 1925 case.

Silent Movies
A site devoted to the days before sound in films.

Greatest Films of the 1920s
A great timeline with commentary and images that covers the studios and their films. Worth the visit for anyone interested in the social history of the period.

Timeline 1921-1925
A useful historical timeline from Ad Access.


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Contact: Michael Goeller,
Last modified: July 15, 2002
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