Prohibition And Organized Crime Essays

An essay written about the Prohibition Era in America and how it paved the way for organized crime to become a thriving business

It’s 1927.  You walk down the streets of New York City and the smell of cheap alcohol burns your nostrils.  You’re not walking by a distillery or a brewery, or at least not a licensed one.  They’ve been shut down for years now.  Instead, you are walking by home upon home making their own homemade liquor.  The law may say the manufacturing and selling of alcohol is illegal, but that doesn’t keep the people from their booze.  The era between 1920 and 1933 is simply known today as the Prohibition, and the disobeying of this new law was not just prominent in New York City but all throughout the United States.  When alcohol was outlawed, America saw a new rise in organized crime.

On January 16th of 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was officially ratified into the Constitution by forty-six of forty-eight states and went into effect a year later (“National”).  This amendment stated:

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. (U.S. Const.)

Following this amendment was the Volstead Act, which set the guidelines of this new law.  Congress passed the Volstead Act after the Eighteenth Amendment’s ratification, barring the sale of intoxicating drinks with a minimum alcohol content of 0.5 percent (“National”).  However, this did not make the consumption of alcoholic beverages illegal, and this was only one of the many loopholes the National Prohibition Act left for its citizens.

First of all, in the privacy of one’s home, anyone could drink with and serve alcohol to “bona fide guests,” so many people stocked up on alcohol before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect to prepare for this event.  Secondly, it was not illegal to sell the equipment and ingredients used to brew alcohol.  Therefore, plenty of wets, or people against Prohibition, became home-brewers and do-it-yourself distillers. Thirdly, the American Medical Association saw an opportunity to make money off of this new legislation and offered $3 prescriptions for “medicinal liquor.” Finally, the Volstead Act allowed alcohol used for religious purposes to be exempt with a license. (Chipley 51-54; “Prohibition”) All of these loopholes began to open doors for organized crime to rise and become not just underground criminals but syndicate empires.

Contrary to popular belief, organized crime is more than synonymous with the mafia or the mob:

Organized Crime is a society that seeks to operate outside the control of the American people and their government.  It involves thousands of criminals, working within structures as complex as those of any large corporation, subject to laws more rigidly enforced than those of legitimate governments. (Demleitner)

The illegalization of alcohol suddenly made it unattainable to the people, making it more enticing and so the people demanded it.  This “perceived need” for an illegal product “shaped the precise function and structure of organized crime” (Demleitner; Bos).

During Prohibition, gangs comprised of groups with some form of kinship or ethnic tie and were predominantly Italian, Irish, and Jewish in heritage.  Their involvement in the illegal alcohol trade of the Prohibition was not surprising, as the Italians and the Irish were some of the heaviest drinkers and the distillers were mostly Jewish before the Eighteenth Amendment came into play (Demleitner; “Prohibition”).  Pre-Prohibition, there was no need for these groups to work together, but by the 1920s, a common ground had been developed as they saw opportunity to make money from smuggling, otherwise known as “bootlegging” or “rum-running.”  Gangs began to become business syndicates in their territory, and collaboration between the “businesses” was not unheard of due to the need of transporting liquids past the border and across state lines.  “The new breed of gangster was considered the equivalent of a businessman who succeeded in building a stable and affluent organization” (Demleitner).  The gangsters certainly thought of themselves as such; their crime was their occupation, and their fashion reflected that with their pinstripe suits, classy fedoras, and flashy ties (Beshears).

Despite the attractive attire, they were not above using force.  In fact, “the use of force and intimidation is an integral part of the supply of illicit goods” (Demleitner).  It wasn’t simply competition and innocent citizens that were threatened by these organized crime members.  Rather, it was the federal and judicial officials.  Along with the many loopholes in the Volstead Act, the enforcement of its own guidelines was very weak.  Officers were few in number, approximately around 3,000 or so, and under-paid, so corruption was an essential tool used by gangs to manipulate the law to their liking and benefit.  Many officers and court judges were known to accept bribes, and if bribes were not enough, violence was another resort (Demleitner; “National”).  “Often the mere reputation for violence is sufficient to guarantee adherence to deals” (Demleitner).  For the more established groups, it was easier to build business based on reputation by flaunting their power.

Power was not the only thing that these new criminal businesses had to flaunt, though.  The bootlegging trade brought in hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the gangs.  When Al Capone was handed over control of “The Outfit” in Chicago, most of the city was in his hands: “Between 1925-1930, he controlled distilleries, breweries, night clubs, brothels, speakeasies, bookie joints, gambling houses, race tracks, and more.  It is reported that his organization averaged about $100 million a year during that time frame” (Bos).  In comparison, congressional appropriations for Prohibition enforcement did not exceed $10 million between 1921 and 1926 and was often anywhere as low as $6 million; not only that, but twenty-eight states didn’t set aside a single penny for Prohibition enforcement in 1927 (“National”).  With that in mind, it’s not difficult to see how easy it was for corruption to begin, and in fact, “between 1920 and 1929, one out of every twelve Prohibition enforcement agents, 8.5 percent of the force, was fired for illegal or unauthorized acts” (“National”).  A new Bureau of Prohibition began in 1927, and with that, sting operations were immediately conducted to catch as many involved in illegal conduct as possible.  One such operation took place in the state of Washington, and it managed to catch many, including the mayor of Tacoma (Bos).

Law enforcement officials were not the only allies gangs had to call upon, as mentioned previously.  “When you start to have the need to move huge quantities of liquids – often in bottles and cases and barrels – from one place to another, then you need to have somebody at the other end to help you either send it out or to receive it.  So you had to have allies in other cities” (“Prohibition”).  For example, Al Capone and “The Outfit” in Chicago made a treaty with the Purple Gang in Detroit for alcohol that the Purple Gang was smuggling in from Canada, “and in Atlantic City, in 1929, [there] was the first formal organization of mobsters from seven different cities who came together, divided up the country, set prices and created the thing that we now know to be organized crime on a national scale” (“Prohibition”).  Before Prohibition, local organized crime was an underground occurrence that rarely, if at all, interacted with other gangs, but Prohibition reversed these functions and the previous balance between politics and crime entirely due to the influence and resources organized crime groups garnered.

One major source of revenue for organized crime groups was the running of a “speakeasy,” which was the underground response to the shutting down of saloons.  The name comes from the fact that in order to enter a speakeasy, a new patron would have to provide a password or the name of a regular patron.  Clearly, these speakeasies were a bit different than pre-Prohibition saloons, but the password was not the only thing that differentiated them.  While saloons were only ever frequented by lower- and middle-class men, speakeasies served men and women of middle- and upper-class status.  While women were typically against the saloons and supported Prohibition, the young “flappers,” the nickname for the independent, free-speaking young women of the 1920s, were attracted to this illegal operation and became frequent patrons alongside the working class men (Chipley).

Because of the illegality of running a speakeasy, many had elaborate security systems and measures to take.  Some speakeasies were disguised as unsuspecting businesses, such as a funeral parlor.  One famous speakeasy, known as the 21 Club, operated in a four-story townhouse in Manhattan with a security system that “included multiple alarm buttons in the front lobby so, if raiders successfully prevented one of the alarms from being activated, the doorman could easily press another.” Their measures of protection did not just end there, however:

Liquor stores were kept in five separate hiding places, which could only be accessed through concealed doors.  The most famous of these liquor caches was the secret wine cellar.  Located in the basement of the adjoining building, the 21’s extensive wine cellar lay behind a cleverly concealed 5,000-pound door, which could only be opened by inserting a long metal rod into a miniscule hole in a certain brick. … The shelves behind the bar rested on tongue blocks.  In case of a raid the bartender could press a button that released the blocks, letting the shelves fall backward and dropping the bottles down a chute.  As they fell, they hit against angle irons projecting from the sides of the chute and smashed. At the bottom were rocks and a pile of sand through which the liquor seeped, leaving not a drop of evidence.  In addition, when the button was pressed, an alarm bell went off, warning everybody to drink up fast… (Chipley).

This clever method of protection managed to keep the illegal operations going, and the 21 Club was raided on various occasions without being caught.

Whether it was simply through illegal business conduct, police corruption, or violence, organized crime skyrocketed throughout the Prohibition.  In his interview about his book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition on Fresh Air, Daniel Orkent makes a point about how the Eighteenth Amendment was one of the only two amendments to the Constitution that dictated the behavior of individuals and not the behavior of the government.  Because of this, its failure is hardly surprising.  By limiting the people in their behavior, a spark was lit inside of many to rebel and turn against the law.  Organized crime existed before the Prohibition, but once the American people’s actions were restricted, the line between right and wrong blurred, causing the average citizen to become no different than a gang member.

 

 

Works Cited

Beshears, L.. “Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times: American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. ” The Journal of American Culture  33.3 (2010): 197-206. Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  9 Apr. 2011.

Bos, Carole D. “Road to Perdition” AwesomeStories.com <http://www.awesomestories.com/flicks/road-perdition&gt;.

Chipley, Louise. The Prohibition Era: Temperance in the United States. Chelsea House Pub, 2008. Print.

Demleitner, Nora V. “Organized crime and prohibition: what difference does legalization make?” Whittier Law Review 15.3 (1994): 613-646. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 March. 2011.

“National Prohibition (United States).” Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 9 April 2011.

“Prohibition Life: Politics, Loopholes And Bathtub Gin.” Fresh Air 9 May 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 March. 2011.

It’s 1927.  You walk down the streets of New York City and the smell of cheap alcohol burns your nostrils.  You’re not walking by a distillery or a brewery, or at least not a licensed one.  They’ve been shut down for years now.  Instead, you are walking by home upon home making their own homemade liquor.  The law may say the manufacturing and selling of alcohol is illegal, but that doesn’t keep the people from their booze.  The era between 1920 and 1933 is simply known today as the Prohibition, and the disobeying of this new law was not just prominent in New York City but all throughout the United States.  When alcohol was outlawed, America saw a new rise in organized crime.

On January 16th of 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was officially ratified into the Constitution by forty-six of forty-eight states and went into effect a year later (“National”).  This amendment stated:

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. (U.S. Const.)

Following this amendment was the Volstead Act, which set the guidelines of this new law.  Congress passed the Volstead Act after the Eighteenth Amendment’s ratification, barring the sale of intoxicating drinks with a minimum alcohol content of 0.5 percent (“National”).  However, this did not make the consumption of alcoholic beverages illegal, and this was only one of the many loopholes the National Prohibition Act left for its citizens.

First of all, in the privacy of one’s home, anyone could drink with and serve alcohol to “bona fide guests,” so many people stocked up on alcohol before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect to prepare for this event.  Secondly, it was not illegal to sell the equipment and ingredients used to brew alcohol.  Therefore, plenty of wets, or people against Prohibition, became home-brewers and do-it-yourself distillers. Thirdly, the American Medical Association saw an opportunity to make money off of this new legislation and offered $3 prescriptions for “medicinal liquor.” Finally, the Volstead Act allowed alcohol used for religious purposes to be exempt with a license. (Chipley 51-54; “Prohibition”) All of these loopholes began to open doors for organized crime to rise and become not just underground criminals but syndicate empires.

Contrary to popular belief, organized crime is more than synonymous with the mafia or the mob:

Organized Crime is a society that seeks to operate outside the control of the American people and their government.  It involves thousands of criminals, working within structures as complex as those of any large corporation, subject to laws more rigidly enforced than those of legitimate governments. (Demleitner)

The illegalization of alcohol suddenly made it unattainable to the people, making it more enticing and so the people demanded it.  This “perceived need” for an illegal product “shaped the precise function and structure of organized crime” (Demleitner; Bos).

During Prohibition, gangs comprised of groups with some form of kinship or ethnic tie and were predominantly Italian, Irish, and Jewish in heritage.  Their involvement in the illegal alcohol trade of the Prohibition was not surprising, as the Italians and the Irish were some of the heaviest drinkers and the distillers were mostly Jewish before the Eighteenth Amendment came into play (Demleitner; “Prohibition”).  Pre-Prohibition, there was no need for these groups to work together, but by the 1920s, a common ground had been developed as they saw opportunity to make money from smuggling, otherwise known as “bootlegging” or “rum-running.”  Gangs began to become business syndicates in their territory, and collaboration between the “businesses” was not unheard of due to the need of transporting liquids past the border and across state lines.  “The new breed of gangster was considered the equivalent of a businessman who succeeded in building a stable and affluent organization” (Demleitner).  The gangsters certainly thought of themselves as such; their crime was their occupation, and their fashion reflected that with their pinstripe suits, classy fedoras, and flashy ties (Beshears).

Despite the attractive attire, they were not above using force.  In fact, “the use of force and intimidation is an integral part of the supply of illicit goods” (Demleitner).  It wasn’t simply competition and innocent citizens that were threatened by these organized crime members.  Rather, it was the federal and judicial officials.  Along with the many loopholes in the Volstead Act, the enforcement of its own guidelines was very weak.  Officers were few in number, approximately around 3,000 or so, and under-paid, so corruption was an essential tool used by gangs to manipulate the law to their liking and benefit.  Many officers and court judges were known to accept bribes, and if bribes were not enough, violence was another resort (Demleitner; “National”).  “Often the mere reputation for violence is sufficient to guarantee adherence to deals” (Demleitner).  For the more established groups, it was easier to build business based on reputation by flaunting their power.

Power was not the only thing that these new criminal businesses had to flaunt, though.  The bootlegging trade brought in hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the gangs.  When Al Capone was handed over control of “The Outfit” in Chicago, most of the city was in his hands: “Between 1925-1930, he controlled distilleries, breweries, night clubs, brothels, speakeasies, bookie joints, gambling houses, race tracks, and more.  It is reported that his organization averaged about $100 million a year during that time frame” (Bos).  In comparison, congressional appropriations for Prohibition enforcement did not exceed $10 million between 1921 and 1926 and was often anywhere as low as $6 million; not only that, but twenty-eight states didn’t set aside a single penny for Prohibition enforcement in 1927 (“National”).  With that in mind, it’s not difficult to see how easy it was for corruption to begin, and in fact, “between 1920 and 1929, one out of every twelve Prohibition enforcement agents, 8.5 percent of the force, was fired for illegal or unauthorized acts” (“National”).  A new Bureau of Prohibition began in 1927, and with that, sting operations were immediately conducted to catch as many involved in illegal conduct as possible.  One such operation took place in the state of Washington, and it managed to catch many, including the mayor of Tacoma (Bos).

Law enforcement officials were not the only allies gangs had to call upon, as mentioned previously.  “When you start to have the need to move huge quantities of liquids – often in bottles and cases and barrels – from one place to another, then you need to have somebody at the other end to help you either send it out or to receive it.  So you had to have allies in other cities” (“Prohibition”).  For example, Al Capone and “The Outfit” in Chicago made a treaty with the Purple Gang in Detroit for alcohol that the Purple Gang was smuggling in from Canada, “and in Atlantic City, in 1929, [there] was the first formal organization of mobsters from seven different cities who came together, divided up the country, set prices and created the thing that we now know to be organized crime on a national scale” (“Prohibition”).  Before Prohibition, local organized crime was an underground occurrence that rarely, if at all, interacted with other gangs, but Prohibition reversed these functions and the previous balance between politics and crime entirely due to the influence and resources organized crime groups garnered.

One major source of revenue for organized crime groups was the running of a “speakeasy,” which was the underground response to the shutting down of saloons.  The name comes from the fact that in order to enter a speakeasy, a new patron would have to provide a password or the name of a regular patron.  Clearly, these speakeasies were a bit different than pre-Prohibition saloons, but the password was not the only thing that differentiated them.  While saloons were only ever frequented by lower- and middle-class men, speakeasies served men and women of middle- and upper-class status.  While women were typically against the saloons and supported Prohibition, the young “flappers,” the nickname for the independent, free-speaking young women of the 1920s, were attracted to this illegal operation and became frequent patrons alongside the working class men (Chipley).

Because of the illegality of running a speakeasy, many had elaborate security systems and measures to take.  Some speakeasies were disguised as unsuspecting businesses, such as a funeral parlor.  One famous speakeasy, known as the 21 Club, operated in a four-story townhouse in Manhattan with a security system that “included multiple alarm buttons in the front lobby so, if raiders successfully prevented one of the alarms from being activated, the doorman could easily press another.” Their measures of protection did not just end there, however:

Liquor stores were kept in five separate hiding places, which could only be accessed through concealed doors.  The most famous of these liquor caches was the secret wine cellar.  Located in the basement of the adjoining building, the 21’s extensive wine cellar lay behind a cleverly concealed 5,000-pound door, which could only be opened by inserting a long metal rod into a miniscule hole in a certain brick. … The shelves behind the bar rested on tongue blocks.  In case of a raid the bartender could press a button that released the blocks, letting the shelves fall backward and dropping the bottles down a chute.  As they fell, they hit against angle irons projecting from the sides of the chute and smashed. At the bottom were rocks and a pile of sand through which the liquor seeped, leaving not a drop of evidence.  In addition, when the button was pressed, an alarm bell went off, warning everybody to drink up fast… (Chipley).

This clever method of protection managed to keep the illegal operations going, and the 21 Club was raided on various occasions without being caught.

Whether it was simply through illegal business conduct, police corruption, or violence, organized crime skyrocketed throughout the Prohibition.  In his interview about his book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition on Fresh Air, Daniel Orkent makes a point about how the Eighteenth Amendment was one of the only two amendments to the Constitution that dictated the behavior of individuals and not the behavior of the government.  Because of this, its failure is hardly surprising.  By limiting the people in their behavior, a spark was lit inside of many to rebel and turn against the law.  Organized crime existed before the Prohibition, but once the American people’s actions were restricted, the line between right and wrong blurred, causing the average citizen to become no different than a gang member.

 

 

Works Cited

Beshears, L.. “Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times: American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. ” The Journal of American Culture  33.3 (2010): 197-206. Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  9 Apr. 2011.

Bos, Carole D. “Road to Perdition” AwesomeStories.com <http://www.awesomestories.com/flicks/road-perdition&gt;.

Chipley, Louise. The Prohibition Era: Temperance in the United States. Chelsea House Pub, 2008. Print.

Demleitner, Nora V. “Organized crime and prohibition: what difference does legalization make?” Whittier Law Review 15.3 (1994): 613-646. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 March. 2011.

“National Prohibition (United States).” Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 9 April 2011.

“Prohibition Life: Politics, Loopholes And Bathtub Gin.” Fresh Air 9 May 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 March. 2011.

It’s 1927.  You walk down the streets of New York City and the smell of cheap alcohol burns your nostrils.  You’re not walking by a distillery or a brewery, or at least not a licensed one.  They’ve been shut down for years now.  Instead, you are walking by home upon home making their own homemade liquor.  The law may say the manufacturing and selling of alcohol is illegal, but that doesn’t keep the people from their booze.  The era between 1920 and 1933 is simply known today as the Prohibition, and the disobeying of this new law was not just prominent in New York City but all throughout the United States.  When alcohol was outlawed, America saw a new rise in organized crime.

On January 16th of 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was officially ratified into the Constitution by forty-six of forty-eight states and went into effect a year later (“National”).  This amendment stated:

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. (U.S. Const.)

Following this amendment was the Volstead Act, which set the guidelines of this new law.  Congress passed the Volstead Act after the Eighteenth Amendment’s ratification, barring the sale of intoxicating drinks with a minimum alcohol content of 0.5 percent (“National”).  However, this did not make the consumption of alcoholic beverages illegal, and this was only one of the many loopholes the National Prohibition Act left for its citizens.

First of all, in the privacy of one’s home, anyone could drink with and serve alcohol to “bona fide guests,” so many people stocked up on alcohol before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect to prepare for this event.  Secondly, it was not illegal to sell the equipment and ingredients used to brew alcohol.  Therefore, plenty of wets, or people against Prohibition, became home-brewers and do-it-yourself distillers. Thirdly, the American Medical Association saw an opportunity to make money off of this new legislation and offered $3 prescriptions for “medicinal liquor.” Finally, the Volstead Act allowed alcohol used for religious purposes to be exempt with a license. (Chipley 51-54; “Prohibition”) All of these loopholes began to open doors for organized crime to rise and become not just underground criminals but syndicate empires.

Contrary to popular belief, organized crime is more than synonymous with the mafia or the mob:

Organized Crime is a society that seeks to operate outside the control of the American people and their government.  It involves thousands of criminals, working within structures as complex as those of any large corporation, subject to laws more rigidly enforced than those of legitimate governments. (Demleitner)

The illegalization of alcohol suddenly made it unattainable to the people, making it more enticing and so the people demanded it.  This “perceived need” for an illegal product “shaped the precise function and structure of organized crime” (Demleitner; Bos).

During Prohibition, gangs comprised of groups with some form of kinship or ethnic tie and were predominantly Italian, Irish, and Jewish in heritage.  Their involvement in the illegal alcohol trade of the Prohibition was not surprising, as the Italians and the Irish were some of the heaviest drinkers and the distillers were mostly Jewish before the Eighteenth Amendment came into play (Demleitner; “Prohibition”).  Pre-Prohibition, there was no need for these groups to work together, but by the 1920s, a common ground had been developed as they saw opportunity to make money from smuggling, otherwise known as “bootlegging” or “rum-running.”  Gangs began to become business syndicates in their territory, and collaboration between the “businesses” was not unheard of due to the need of transporting liquids past the border and across state lines.  “The new breed of gangster was considered the equivalent of a businessman who succeeded in building a stable and affluent organization” (Demleitner).  The gangsters certainly thought of themselves as such; their crime was their occupation, and their fashion reflected that with their pinstripe suits, classy fedoras, and flashy ties (Beshears).

Despite the attractive attire, they were not above using force.  In fact, “the use of force and intimidation is an integral part of the supply of illicit goods” (Demleitner).  It wasn’t simply competition and innocent citizens that were threatened by these organized crime members.  Rather, it was the federal and judicial officials.  Along with the many loopholes in the Volstead Act, the enforcement of its own guidelines was very weak.  Officers were few in number, approximately around 3,000 or so, and under-paid, so corruption was an essential tool used by gangs to manipulate the law to their liking and benefit.  Many officers and court judges were known to accept bribes, and if bribes were not enough, violence was another resort (Demleitner; “National”).  “Often the mere reputation for violence is sufficient to guarantee adherence to deals” (Demleitner).  For the more established groups, it was easier to build business based on reputation by flaunting their power.

Power was not the only thing that these new criminal businesses had to flaunt, though.  The bootlegging trade brought in hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the gangs.  When Al Capone was handed over control of “The Outfit” in Chicago, most of the city was in his hands: “Between 1925-1930, he controlled distilleries, breweries, night clubs, brothels, speakeasies, bookie joints, gambling houses, race tracks, and more.  It is reported that his organization averaged about $100 million a year during that time frame” (Bos).  In comparison, congressional appropriations for Prohibition enforcement did not exceed $10 million between 1921 and 1926 and was often anywhere as low as $6 million; not only that, but twenty-eight states didn’t set aside a single penny for Prohibition enforcement in 1927 (“National”).  With that in mind, it’s not difficult to see how easy it was for corruption to begin, and in fact, “between 1920 and 1929, one out of every twelve Prohibition enforcement agents, 8.5 percent of the force, was fired for illegal or unauthorized acts” (“National”).  A new Bureau of Prohibition began in 1927, and with that, sting operations were immediately conducted to catch as many involved in illegal conduct as possible.  One such operation took place in the state of Washington, and it managed to catch many, including the mayor of Tacoma (Bos).

Law enforcement officials were not the only allies gangs had to call upon, as mentioned previously.  “When you start to have the need to move huge quantities of liquids – often in bottles and cases and barrels – from one place to another, then you need to have somebody at the other end to help you either send it out or to receive it.  So you had to have allies in other cities” (“Prohibition”).  For example, Al Capone and “The Outfit” in Chicago made a treaty with the Purple Gang in Detroit for alcohol that the Purple Gang was smuggling in from Canada, “and in Atlantic City, in 1929, [there] was the first formal organization of mobsters from seven different cities who came together, divided up the country, set prices and created the thing that we now know to be organized crime on a national scale” (“Prohibition”).  Before Prohibition, local organized crime was an underground occurrence that rarely, if at all, interacted with other gangs, but Prohibition reversed these functions and the previous balance between politics and crime entirely due to the influence and resources organized crime groups garnered.

One major source of revenue for organized crime groups was the running of a “speakeasy,” which was the underground response to the shutting down of saloons.  The name comes from the fact that in order to enter a speakeasy, a new patron would have to provide a password or the name of a regular patron.  Clearly, these speakeasies were a bit different than pre-Prohibition saloons, but the password was not the only thing that differentiated them.  While saloons were only ever frequented by lower- and middle-class men, speakeasies served men and women of middle- and upper-class status.  While women were typically against the saloons and supported Prohibition, the young “flappers,” the nickname for the independent, free-speaking young women of the 1920s, were attracted to this illegal operation and became frequent patrons alongside the working class men (Chipley).

Because of the illegality of running a speakeasy, many had elaborate security systems and measures to take.  Some speakeasies were disguised as unsuspecting businesses, such as a funeral parlor.  One famous speakeasy, known as the 21 Club, operated in a four-story townhouse in Manhattan with a security system that “included multiple alarm buttons in the front lobby so, if raiders successfully prevented one of the alarms from being activated, the doorman could easily press another.” Their measures of protection did not just end there, however:

Liquor stores were kept in five separate hiding places, which could only be accessed through concealed doors.  The most famous of these liquor caches was the secret wine cellar.  Located in the basement of the adjoining building, the 21’s extensive wine cellar lay behind a cleverly concealed 5,000-pound door, which could only be opened by inserting a long metal rod into a miniscule hole in a certain brick. … The shelves behind the bar rested on tongue blocks.  In case of a raid the bartender could press a button that released the blocks, letting the shelves fall backward and dropping the bottles down a chute.  As they fell, they hit against angle irons projecting from the sides of the chute and smashed. At the bottom were rocks and a pile of sand through which the liquor seeped, leaving not a drop of evidence.  In addition, when the button was pressed, an alarm bell went off, warning everybody to drink up fast… (Chipley).

This clever method of protection managed to keep the illegal operations going, and the 21 Club was raided on various occasions without being caught.

Whether it was simply through illegal business conduct, police corruption, or violence, organized crime skyrocketed throughout the Prohibition.  In his interview about his book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition on Fresh Air, Daniel Orkent makes a point about how the Eighteenth Amendment was one of the only two amendments to the Constitution that dictated the behavior of individuals and not the behavior of the government.  Because of this, its failure is hardly surprising.  By limiting the people in their behavior, a spark was lit inside of many to rebel and turn against the law.  Organized crime existed before the Prohibition, but once the American people’s actions were restricted, the line between right and wrong blurred, causing the average citizen to become no different than a gang member.

 

 

Works Cited

Beshears, L.. “Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times: American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. ” The Journal of American Culture  33.3 (2010): 197-206. Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  9 Apr. 2011.

Bos, Carole D. “Road to Perdition” AwesomeStories.com <http://www.awesomestories.com/flicks/road-perdition&gt;.

Chipley, Louise. The Prohibition Era: Temperance in the United States. Chelsea House Pub, 2008. Print.

Demleitner, Nora V. “Organized crime and prohibition: what difference does legalization make?” Whittier Law Review 15.3 (1994): 613-646. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 March. 2011.

“National Prohibition (United States).” Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 9 April 2011.

“Prohibition Life: Politics, Loopholes And Bathtub Gin.” Fresh Air 9 May 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 March. 2011.

U.S. Const. amend. XVIII, sec. 1

(c) Morgan Lea Davis, 2011

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US Prohibition And Crime

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During the 1920s to the 1930s the efforts in the United States to pass laws prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol substantially contributed to crime rates and violence. This was made possible through the ratification of Eighteenth Amendment.
The modern movement for prohibition had its main growth in the United States and developed largely as a result of the agitation of nineteenth century temperance movements. The history of the brewing industry in the United States and the history of the prohibition movement were closely related. Brewing became a big business in the later part of the nineteenth century. German immigrants brought lager beer to the United States, and it became popular. Saloons grew in abundance, enticing customers with the draw of alcohol, gambling, and prostitution.
In response to the rapidly growing market for alcohol and expansion of saloons, supporters of a different kind of America formed. The Anti-Saloon League, an organization formed in 1893 by representatives of temperance societies and evangelical Protestant churches, "had the intentions of bringing business-like methods to political and reform work." 1 With prohibition as a main focus, the League used the widespread dislike of the saloon among "respectable" Americans to fuel prohibition sentiments.
The mission of the Anti-Saloon League grew in support. It did not take long for other groups, such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union ("the largest female reform society of the late nineteenth century"), to join in the opposition of liquor sales in America. 2 With increasing support, Prohibition surfaced as a political issue.
The 1920s were a time of tremendous change in America. While the temperance movement had been around since the turn of the century, it was during the 1920s that prohibition was truly popularized.
The Eighteenth Amendment took effect in January 1920, "banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of all intoxicating liquors." 3 The Volstead Act (National Prohibition Enforcement Act), passed on October 28, 1919, provided enforcement of the recently ratified Eighteenth Amendment. The act, passed over President Woodrow Wilson's veto, "affirmed and further specified the provisions of the Eighteenth Amendment, delineated fines and prison terms for violation of the law, empowered the Bureau of Internal Revenue to administer Prohibition, and classified as alcoholic all beverages containing more than one-half of 1 percent alcohol by volume." 4
Referred to by supporters as "the noble experiment" (as President Herbert Hoover had called it), Prohibition succeeded at lowering the consumption of alcohol, at least in rural areas.

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5 At the same time, the amendment created a productive black market for alcohol sales. Illegal, or bootlegged, liquor became widely available in cities. Typically, smugglers brought this liquor into the United States from other countries, while other Americans produced alcohol at home. "Speakeasies," illegal bars where men and often women drank publicly, opened in most urban areas. 6
In spite of the strict Volstead Act (1919), Prohibition proved to be difficult to enforce. Although overall drinking was generally thought to have declined, it continued uninterrupted in many parts of the country, particularly in large cities and in areas with large foreign-born populations. Smuggling on a large scale could not be prevented, and the illegal manufacture of liquor sprang up with such speed that authorities were unable to contain it. Thus began a period of illegal drinking, lawbreaking, organized crime, and the corruption of public officials.
The 1920s saw a rapid increase in the American crime-rate. This was mainly due to the illegal alcohol trade that had been developed to overcome Prohibition. "According to a study taken in 30 US cities, there was a 24 percent increase in crime rate between 1920 and 1921. The rate of arrests on account of drunkenness rose 41 percent, and arrests for drunken driving increased 81 percent. Thefts rose 9 percent, and assault and battery incidents rose 13 percent. Before Prohibition, there had only been 4,000 federal convicts, and less than 3,000 were housed in federal prisons. By 1932, the number of federal convicts had increased 561 percent and the federal prison population increased by 361 percent. Over 2/3 of all prisoners in 1930 were convicted on alcohol and drug charges." 7 Prohibition provided criminals with a financially rewarding new business. Corruption found its way into the world of high-ranking city and state officials, as many saw this as a business opportunity. All American cities experienced increases in crime.
Chicago became a prime example of this corruption. "Speakeasies" began popping up all over the city. The bootleggers and the city officials both found the arrangements very profitable. The bootleggers made money from their speakeasies and in turn paid off the police, politicians and corrupt prohibition agents. One politician in particular who made this arrangement possible was the mayor at the time, "Big Bill" William Hale Thompson. 8 He saw to it that bootleggers had protection from the city's police and politicians. Although Thompson was the delegated mayor of Chicago, the person holding the majority of power, known as "the mayor of crook county," was Alphonse Capone. 9
Born on January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York to two Italian immigrants. 10 Capone grew up in an impoverished mostly Italian neighborhood. From a young age, he showed a tendency toward rebellion and violence. Capone attended school through the sixth grade when he proceeded to beat up his teacher. He was reprimanded by the schools principal and consequently left school for good. The streets became a new way of life, and soon, Capone became involved with the James Street Gang. Led by the notorious Johnny Torrio, Capone was taken under his wing. Torrio, and his partner, Frankie Yale, soon hired Capone as a bouncer at one of their saloons. It was there that he obtained his most famous nickname, "Scarface," after a bar altercation left his face slashed. 11
In 1919 Capone relocated to Chicago, Illinois. 12 After the implication of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act, Capone saw an opportunity for business. Together, Torrio and Capone made plans to build an empire based on the illegal trade of alcohol. Their influence gained as they received support and protection from corrupt police and city officials.
Taking control of Chicago did not prove an easy feat. Bootlegging was already becoming widespread and was mainly controlled by the Irish Gang of Dean O'Banion. O'Banion was born on July 8, 1892 to Irish Catholic parents in Aurora, Illinois. 13 He grew up in a mostly Irish part of Chicago notorious citywide for its crime; it was known as "Little Hell".14 Like Capone, as a teenager, O'Banion joined a gang and thus began his life of crime. In and out of jail over the next few years, prohibition brought him the break he needed. Armed with street smarts and a ruthless temper, O'Banion began to set up his bootlegging empire.
Almost instantly Capone and Torrio butted heads with O'Banion, and a war began. O'Banion made the first move by framing Capone and Torrio for a murder. Consequently, Torrio and Capone fought back, ultimately leading to the murder of O'Banion.
O'Banion's murder sparked a series of events leading to the murders of several top ranking mobsters. Alone now, Capone had successfully taken control of Chicago's black market for alcohol and had become the city's leading bootlegger and gambling lord. Annually, Capone was profiting approximately $60 million in illegal alcohol and $25 million in gambling establishments. 15 Although authorities generally tolerated bootleggers and speakeasies at first, the St. Valentines Day Massacre of 1929 caused a crack down on the gangsters when Capone's gang disguised as police officers gunned down members of a rival gang.
Since Capone was so far removed from the illegal activities of his organization the authorities only avenue for arresting Capone came through tax evasion. On October 24, 1931 Capone was sentenced to eight years in jail, eventually being shipped off to Alcatraz. 16 During his prison term Capone was diagnosed with syphilis. November of 1939 he was released from prison and after spending time in a hospital he retired to his Palm Island estate. In January 19, 1947 at the age of 48, Alphonse Capone passed away from complications involving syphilis. 17 Capone would go down in history as the most famous gangster of the Mob, and "the kingpin of Crime during the 1920s." 18
The Great Depression ultimately led to the demise of Prohibition. Economic stressors were abundant, as people sought employment and profit from the business of alcohol. The Anti-Saloon League continued to hold their ground with continuing support for the 18th Amendment despite the economic conditions.
Shortly after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to repeal Prohibition was introduced in Congress. On December 5, 1933 the "Noble Experiment" came to an end, and America was no longer a dry country. While this came as a disappointment to the Anti-Saloon League, their founder, Howard Hyde Russell offered a response to the repeal: "This is no dry funeral; only a period of mistaken public opinion, warped and twisted by the conspiracy of a ‘refuge of lies,' of false propaganda and political party duress... the question is: What shall drys do next?... If we cannot get the whole loaf, we accept a half loaf, a slice, crust or crumb..." 19
Overall, the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition was an important lesson in American history. Whenever there is a movement of any kind, there will be opposition. Opposition, as it did during the 1920s and the mob, can attribute to increasing crime levels and corruption.

Amendment XVIII
[The Prohibition Amendment] Passed by Congress December 18, 1917. Ratified January 16, 1919. Repealed by amendment 21.
Section 1. ?After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. ?The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. ?This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by Congress.

Notes
1. Feder, Sue. "Prohibition," 2000, .
2. Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History, Volume 2. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2005, A-62.
3. Prohibition: "The Noble Experiment," 2005,
4. Moore, Mike and Dean Gerstein, Alcohol and Public Policy: Beyond the Shadow of Prohibition, IA: Houghton Mifflin ,1981, 35.
5. Feder, Sue
6. Foner, Eric, 771.
7. Crime Rate," 2005,
8. Capeci, Jerry. The Mafia, Second Edition. New York: Alpha Books, 2004, 126
9. Capeci, Jerry ,126.
10. Mannion, James. The Everything Mafia Book. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 2003, 259
11. Hunt, Thomas P. "The American Mafia," 2005 .
12. Mannion, James 37.
13. Hunt, Thomas P.
14. Hunt, Thomas P.
15. Capeci, Jerry ,128.
16. Mannion, James 43.
17. Mannion, James 43.
18. Mannion, James 259.
19. Feder, Sue


Bibliography

Black, Jon "GangRule.com," 2002, .

Capeci, Jerry. The Mafia, Second Edition. New York: Alpha Books, 2004.

Carter, Lauren. The Most Evil Mobsters In History. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2004.

Courtroom Television Network LLC., "Court TV's Crime Library," 2005, .

Feder, Sue. "Prohibition," 2000, .

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History, Volume 2. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2005.

Hunt, Thomas P. "The American Mafia," 2005 .

Mannion, James. The Everything Mafia Book. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 2003.

May, Allen. "Chicago's Unione Siciliana: 1920 - A Decade of Slaughter" Crime Magazine, 2000, .

Prohibition: "The Noble Experiment," 2005,

Smith, Jo Durden. A Complete History of the Mafia. London: Metro Books by arrangement with Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2003.



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