Organized Crime During the Prohibition

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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