Time Period: 20th Century, Gilded Age
Topic: Culture, Immigration
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution instated Prohibition throughout America. While it was rallied and put forth by puritanical values, its greatest profits would be the organized crime, corruption, and gangster culture that it created. While bootleggers, speakeasies, and organized crime would grow all throughout America during Prohibition, Chicago was a standout with its reputation throughout the country as being a center for this new criminal business.
The preexisting circumstances and environment of Chicago was the perfect location for a boom in organized crime. A large, ostracized community of immigrants (both Italians and Jews,), poor living conditions, existing political corruption, and of course Prohibition itself created a perfect storm of conditions for the boom of organized crime. As these new immigrants had to rely upon each other, close connections were formed. As many of them joined the new, lucrative business of organized crime, they would become involved whether actively or by simply allowing their neighbors-now criminals-to store their contraband in their basements.
Even if they were not part of the same family, or even within the same community, these bootleggers were not criminals; they were modern day Robin Hoods. Beloved by the poor communities that suddenly would get an influx of support from the city infrastructure, or from gangs like The Chicago Outfit.
With the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933, Prohibition was repealed. The damage was already done however, as the public’s faith of law enforcement had been flipped. Organized Crime had become a business, infiltrating and corrupting the city governments and other businesses of the cities that they were in. While the true nature of some of these gangs would begin to show, the mystique and the allure of the gangster with their smart suits, long hats, and even longer Tommy Guns allured the cinema and America, and would continue to do so for years.
Mappen, Marc. Prohibition Gangsters: The Rise and Fall of a Bad Generation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013.
Blocker, Jack S., David M. Fahey, and Ian R. Tyrrell. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2003.
Smith, Chris M., and Andrew V. Papachristos. “Trust Thy Crooked Neighbor.” American Sociological Review 81, no. 4 (2016): 644-67. doi:10.1177/0003122416650149.
“A CHICAGO THIEVES’ COLLEGE.” The National Police Gazette (1845-1906) (New York), January 19, 1884, Vol. 43 ed., Iss. 330 sec.
Boyer, Paul. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920. S.L.: Harvard University Press, 2006.
Corsino, Louis. The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014.
Rollyson, Carl E. The Twenties in America. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012.
Cannon, Byron. “Prohibition.” The 1920s in America. Hackensack: Salem, 2012. https://online-salempress-com.umw.idm.oclc.org
Peck, Garrett (2011). Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t. Charleston, SC: The History Press.
Hirsch, Susan E. Roots of the American Working Class: The Industrialization of Crafts in Newark, 1800-1860. Newark: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.
Gilliam, Jay. “Organized crime.” The 1920s in America. Hackensack: Salem, 2012.
Picture Citations (in order)
Featured/Cover Picture: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99405158/