The year immediately following World War I was a time of recession, but it was also ripe for change. You’ve heard it said, “When you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go but up.” To my view, that was what happened in the twenties.
This decade opened the door for progress, prosperity, exploration, and vast opportunities for greatness. Some of the famous people in the 1920s were Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Coco Chanel, Louis Armstrong, and Al Capone, to name a few.
Their heroism— or notoriety, if you may— helped shape the landscape of various fields, including sports, music, literature, science, entertainment, and fashion.
So what made these big names famous? No doubt you’ll want to read what they did to make them famous. So let’s start digging and take a deep dive into history.
Who Were the Famous People of the 1920s?
Perhaps one landmark characteristic of any list of famous people in the 1920s is that it includes as many women names as there are men, and our list is no different. In an earlier article, we’ve already featured five famous women of the 1920s, so this time, we’re featuring both genders.
The Women’s Movement, which peaked in the 1920s, was one of the reasons why women shone during this period. For the first time, women had the right to vote, and this inspired them to become more independent-minded, more brilliant, and more driven to explore their chosen fields.
Men & Women in Various Fields Who Became Famous People in the 1920s
This list shows the many men and women who excelled in their fields in the 1920s, a decade fondly called the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age.
Babe Ruth – famous baseball player and sports hero in the 1920s
The 1920s was also known as the Golden Age of American Sports, and Babe Ruth was its baseball hero. The Home Run King to his fans, New York Yankees outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth thrilled thousands of spectators with his record-breaking home runs. The World Series Champion and National Baseball Hall of Famer became the most popular baseball player of all time.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald – famous couple of the 1920s in the field of literature
The self-proclaimed flapper king F. Scott Fitzgerald was a novelist and undoubtedly one of the best American writers of the 20th century. He was the author of several short stories, one of which is the novel The Great Gatsby. His wife Zelda S. Fitzgerald was also a writer, an artist, and a playwright. She lived the flapper way of life and was an icon of the flapper culture.
If you’ve read The Great Gatsby and found some of the main characters toxic, then get this! The famous Fitzgerald couple lived a life that didn’t run far from the plot in their novels. In the book The Beautiful and Damned written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda wrote a review about it claiming that his husband plagiarized her writing from her old diary!
Charles Lindbergh – famous American military officer and inventor in the field of aviation
US Air Mail pilot Charles Lindbergh made history in 1927 when he flew the first and longest solo non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris on board the Spirit of St. Louis, a single-engine monoplane. He won the Orteig Prize and a military Medal of Honor for his achievement.
Coco Chanel – famous for revolutionizing fashion in the twenties
Informally acknowledged as the Fashion Queen of the 1920s, Chanel had been instrumental in revolutionizing fashion from the corseted dresses that were the norm than to the androgynous style and Garconne look. She also created the concept of the multi-functional Little Black Dress.
Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith – famous people of the Jazz Age
The 1920s wouldn’t be the Jazz Age without its jazz and music artists. Music virtuoso Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, an African-American jazz trumpeter, cornet player, and vocalist, was considered a major influence in the world of jazz, especially in redirecting jazz ensembles toward solo band performances.
Duke Ellington said, “Music is how I live, why I live, and how I will be remembered,” and that’s how people remember him—the greatest jazz music influencer of his time.
Blues came ahead of jazz, but both were creations of African American musicians. The Empress of the Blues—that was the moniker for blues singer Bessie Smith, and it explains why she made it to our list of the Famous People in the 1920s. She collaborated with Armstrong in some of her 160 recordings produced under Columbia.
Al Capone – most famous gangster of the Roaring Twenties
What good are heroes without the villain? The government called him Public Enemy No. 1 during the American Prohibition era, while some people saw Al Capone— aka Scarface— as the modern-day Robin Hood. He went down in the history of America as the most powerful, feared, and notorious leader of organized crimes.
Albert Einstein – World Famous Scientist
The German physicist, who became known for his theories of relativity and energy equivalence, received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
Amelia Earhart – famous woman pioneer in aviation
Earhart became famous in 1928 for being the first woman to cross the Atlantic as an airplane passenger. She became quite a celebrity for this, but it was nothing compared to her feat in 1932 when she became the first woman to do a solo transatlantic flight.
So Who Was the Most Famous Person in the 1920s?
Well, it depends on whom you ask. For the sports-inclined, it will be Babe Ruth. For the adventurous, no one can beat Lindbergh’s revolutionary flight, which was responsible for changing the way people traveled.
Still, many people would argue that it was Henry Ford’s automotive assembly line that made the Roaring 20s “roar,” making him the most important person in the field of industrial development and economy. It’s true that cars made the 20s roar, but we excluded Ford from the list because his assembly line had already started rolling in as early as 1913, and we didn’t want to snatch the limelight from that decade.
So who were the most famous people of the 1920s then? My best bet would be the people immortalized by the silver screen—the Hollywood stars and movie actors! They were the ultimate flapper icons, and they had flapper fans all over the country and even the world. So when it comes to being famous, you can’t beat that.
Who were some famous actors in the 1920s?
Some movie actors at the time were Clara Bow (the ultimate “It” girl), Harold Lloyd, Charles Chaplin (actor and writer), Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Olive Thomas, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Norma Talmadge, and Louise Brooks, to name a few.
The movies in the early 1920s were silent films, which died a slow death over the decade with the introduction of the “talkies” or movies with sounds. Except for Olive Thomas, who died in 1920, the rest transitioned from being silent film stars to actors in full-sound films and continued to be famous. Yes, even Chaplin of the Little Champ eventually did a full-talkie film.
Who were idols during the 1920s?
Considering that flappers comprised the younger generation, movies were directed mainly toward that market segment. No wonder then that movie stars were groomed to feed that demand. All the actors and actresses mentioned above were major box-office stars, but perhaps the one with the greatest draw to flapper women was Clara Bow.
Even makeup icons Helena Rubinstein and Max Factor produced cosmetics after her cupid bow lips! In short, she became the quintessential flapper girl— from her orange cropped hair and downward-slanted brows to her big, dark eyes and small cupid bow lips. So for us, Bow was the movie idol who enjoyed an exuberant following at the time.
Began with a Roar, Ended with a Crash
The people of the 1920s all over the world referred to this decade as a period of great change, and for many, it was the golden age, the perfect time to be famous. Economic boom was everywhere, though cultural decay was also widespread.
When Wall Street crashed in 1929, it ushered in the Great Depression and prematurely ended the Roaring Twenties. Even so, the famous people of the 1920s have already made their indelible mark, influencing people many decades later, including even our generation today.