Prohibtion and the Advancement of Organized Crime
Submitted By bmg5318
Prohibition and The Advancement in Organized Crime Organized crime in the United States dates back to the early 1800s. Crime was a means for immigrants who worked for low wages and lived in poor areas to survive. Gangs, violence and police corruption have all been a way of life for immigrants to make their rise to money and power; but it wasn’t until the passing of the Volstead Act in 1920 that organized crime and the big bosses behind the operations made a name for themselves. Prohibition was the start of the new generation of organized crime that the United States had never experienced before. In the mid-19th century, religious revivals swept the nation in hopes of making an impact on American lifestyles. Temperance societies formed to regulate the sale and distribution of alcohol. (Prohibition). The American Temperance Society, as well as the Women’s Christian Temperance League practiced dry movements, in order to initiate the banning of alcohol (Prohibition and the Rise of the American Gangster). In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson ordered temporary prohibition to reserve grain for food, as America had just entered the First World War (Prohibition). Organizations such as these and the American government were taking a stand against alcohol, believing that the substance hindered the well being of citizens and their communities. In 1920, the Volstead Act, more commonly known as prohibition, was passed to improve American lives. However, the newly inducted amendment quickly backfired when American gangsters began to capitalize on the most sought after illegal substance. Bootlegging, the illegal production and sale of alcohol, became a lucrative business for gangsters across the US and made crime organization bigger than ever.
Al Capone, America’s most notorious crime leader, was just one of many who saw prohibition as an opportunity to become incredibly wealthy and powerful, and when given an opportunity, Capone was quick to accept the offer. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Capone move to Chicago by the age of twenty and although rumored to begin his career in crime in his adolescence, it was in Chicago where his real business began. He managed a nightclub by the name of The Four Deuces, while engaging in bootlegging, gambling and prostitution, assumingly making over $100,000 per week (Al Capone at Alcatraz). Yet his wealthy lifestyle was under close scrutiny by the government and public alike and soon there were allegations of Capone putting a hit out on a young prosecutor by the name of Billy McSwiggin, who was known for going after bootleggers. After his surrender to the Chicago police, Capone was set free due to lack of evidence, much to the dismay of the public (Al Capone at Alcatraz). In 1929, Capone committed his most notable crime referred to as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Capone decided to go against his biggest bootlegging rival, George “Bugs” Moran, and had his associates impersonate cops, killing seven of Moran’s gang. Moran fled the scene when he saw a patrol car and was not killed. This massacre gained the gangster notoriety beyond his expectations. Although Capone’s wealth and crime is nearly unmatched by any mobster of his time, just a few cities away, five crime families organized by Charles “Lucky” Luciano also had their hands in a fair deal of crime. Luciano began his rise to power working closely with Jewish mobster, Arnold Rothstein, who funded many of Luciano’s operations. Rothstein was considered “the Brain” behind most criminal activities, teaching Luciano how to conduct a successful bootlegging operation and mentored him on moving up in society. Unlike the Old Mafia, Luciano was not afraid to work with gangsters who were not Sicilian, merging Italian and Jewish gangsters (Buchanan). Lucky was a man who was strictly about business and when he saw violence impacting business during the Castellammarese war between Mafia families Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, Lucky decided to eliminate his boss, Masseria (Buchanan). Soon after, Jewish gangsters who impersonated government officials killed Maranzano and Luciano began his quest to reshape and reorganize crime, “replacing traditional Sicilian strong-arm methods with a corporate structure…” (Buchanan). Luciano kept the five crime families of New York created by Maranzano and set up The Commission, which was a way for crime families in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, as well as the New York families, to prevent gang wars and openly communicate problems with each other. During the reigns of gangsters like Luciano and Capone, their communities had mixed reactions. Some people viewed these mobsters as heroes, providing people with jobs and finances that would otherwise not be available. As for Capone, he became a public figure through his charitable work of opening soup kitchens and frequently visiting City Hall. Aware of the power the mobster had, police intentionally set fires to Capone’s places of business and openly accepted bribes from the mobster (Al Capone at Alcatraz). Luciano practiced the same form of bribery with the New York Police Department, paying millions of dollars annually in order to protect himself and conduct his business in the city (Flank). The 1920 Volstead Act was implemented to save American families and marriages and ultimately reduce the crime rate in America. However, as shown by the practices of notorious mobsters Capone and Luciano, prohibition enabled gangsters across the U.S. to become even more rich and powerful than before. Prohibition had a counter-effect on American crime, increasing it tenfold and producing some of the most dangerous criminals in history. The Volstead Act increased costs for law enforcement, jails, and prisons and greatly restricted poor Americans. In 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st, ending prohibition and stimulating the American economy by creating jobs and revenue from alcohol sales (Prohibition). Although crime families and gangsters were still prominent in US cities, the end of prohibition meant the end of a substantial amount of bootlegging and associated crime.
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