Standardization in the 1920s

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13811

As the U.S. began to prosper in the 1920s, there were no standards by which to produce things. While this does not sound very important, our world would not be the same without standardization.


United States, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

traffic lights

  • Do you know what all three of these colors mean?

You probably do, but someone from 100 years ago might not have been that certain.

  • How could this be possible?

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover served as the 31st president of the United States from 1929 to 1933. However, before that, he served as the 3rd U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 1921 to 1928 under two different presidents.

Herbert Hoover, 1928

Image from the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

This might sound like a boring position, but Hoover became one of the most influential and impactful politicians in history because of what he did during those years.

The 1920s

During the 1920s, dubbed the Roaring '20s for a reason, Americans began living much more prosperous lifestyles.

1920s party

This increase in consumerism had them buying cars, clothes, and home appliances in greater numbers than ever before.

As you watch 1920s Consumerism, from jghprofhist, pay attention to how many products were being produced and how easily credit was available at department stores:

Image - Video

  • Did you see how many cars were on the road?

When people traveled between cities, however, they encountered an issue. Traffic lights were not always the same color!

  • Can you imagine driving into the next town and not knowing if a green light meant you should go or stop?

Traffic Lights

Herbert Hoover decided it was his job as Secretary of Commerce to bring order to these new, unregulated areas of society.

In 1924, he chaired the very first National Conference on Street and Highway Safety, which standardized the colors of all traffic lights to what we know today.

But he didn't stop there.

To see what else he helped standardize, watch a clip of The real Herbert Hoover, from CBS Sunday Morning:

Image - Video

  • After seeing how he standardized the automotive and dairy industries, is it a surprise that he standardized the aviation industry too?


Unlike the auto industry, planes were still a fairly new technology at the time. They had a bad reputation due to frequent accidents and were not yet a trusted method of transportation.


Because he saw the potential in the aviation industry, Hoover took control and modeled it after the nautical industry. He directed cities to build airports like they do docks, and he instituted regulations on the building of airplanes to ensure passenger safety,

Read an excerpt from The Business History Review article Herbert Hoover and the Development of Commercial Aviation, 1921-1926, by David D. Lee, courtesy of JSTOR. As you do, pay attention to what they were trying to standardize and why.

Image - Video

Even before the industry was well defined, Hoover took on the task of creating order.

Continue on to the Got It? section to further explore how Hoover revolutionized the role of the Secretary of Commerce.

Image - Button Next