(WIVB) – In just over a week, we’ll enter into the 2020s.
In honor of the new decade, here’s a look back at what was happening in Buffalo in the last ’20s.
The Queen City was booming in the 1920s, with a population of about 500,000 people living in the city itself. (Comparatively, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the city’s 2018 population as 256,304).
“Industry was moving in, radio was beginning, and important buildings were going up that people still see today,” Cynthia Van Ness, director of library research and archives for the Buffalo History Museum said.
Here’s a small snapshot of what Buffalonians in the 1920s were experiencing:
The 18th Amendment, which banned the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, was ratified in 1919- but that didn’t stop booze manufacturing or distribution in the Queen City.
The city’s location on an international border meant that smugglers brought liquor in from Canada.
“People were running boats back and forth- they were also getting caught,” Van Ness said.
Buffalo’s mayor during most of the 1920s, Francis X. Schwab, was a brewery owner, Van Ness said.
“He was charged with Prohibition violations while in office,” she explained.
Prohibition was a turbulent time in Buffalo.
“There was controversy over the fact that Prohibition wasn’t being enforcd here- liquor was flowing, officers were being corrupted, there were payouts and bribes, shootouts and violence,” she added.
The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933.
The 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, was ratified in Aug. 1920.
In Buffalo, women were already in the workforce, holding jobs in factories like the Larkin Building and in department stores as clerks. Some women were also entering professions like law and medicine, Van Ness said.
A subtle change that happened after women got the vote was that Buffalo city directories began listing both women and men, rather than just men, she added.
“If you’re looking at city directories before 1920, you only find women if they’re on their own- schoolteachers, widows,” Van Ness explained. “It’s a subtle change that I think represents a sense of greater visibility and respect for women.”
The building of the Central Terminal
The railroad station opened in 1929 “to great fanfare”, Van Ness said.
“This was a station Buffalo had talked about for decades and decades- Buffalo was trying to figure out what to do with its rail lines,” she said.
Van Ness said that the city had a small undersized station at Exchange St. (where the new Intermodal Transportation Hub is being built).
“The conversation started- could all the lines get together and route through one station?” Van Ness said.
The terminal opened only a few months before the stock market crash of 1929 which led to the Great Depression, but
“Rail traffic was still a viable, affordable way to travel from one route to another,” Van Ness said. “A national highways system hadn’t been built yet.”
The building of the Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge opened to the public in 1927, connecting Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ont.
For the first time, auto and pedestrian traffic from Canada to the Buffalo city center was possible.
“It became a huge economic link between the U.S. and Canada- and it’s still an important link today,” Van Ness said.
Radio was an exciting new medium in the 1920s- the same way the internet was an exciting new medium in the 1990s, Van Ness said.
“People were flocking to the new technology, buying wireless sets, tuning into the radio,” Van Ness said. “It was a very exciting and dynamic time for broadcast news, music, and entertainment.”
Buffalo’s first radio station- WGR- opened in 1922.