Prohibition and the Rise of Organized Crime Peter H. Mitchell Neumann University Thesis: Although prohibition’s goal was to increase a sense of integrity in the United States, it encouraged normally law-abiding citizens to break the law, enabled the growth and influence of organized crime, and increased levels of corruption in government and law-enforcement. Outline: I. Introduction A. Definition of Prohibition B. Eighteenth Amendment C. Medicinal Use D. Sacramental Use II. Affects of Prohibition A. Wine Consumption B. Winery Survival C. Volstead Act III.
Crime and Corruption A. Bootlegging B. Smuggling C. Speakeasies IV. Al Capone A. Chicago Mob B. St Valentine’s Day Massacre C. The Demise of Al Capone and Prohibition V. Conclusions Although prohibition’s goal was to a increase sense of integrity in the United States, it encouraged normally law-abiding citizens to break the law, enabled the growth and influence of organized crime, and increased levels of corruption in government and law-enforcement. The purpose of Prohibition was to protect the values sheltered by “Americans” nuclear family (Clark 13).
Prohibition in the United States was designed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages. Prohibition was supposed to lower crime and corruption, reduce social problems, lower taxes needed to support prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America. Instead, Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; organized crime blossomed; courts and prisons systems became overloaded; and endemic corruption of police and public officials occurred. In 1919, America was torn with the decision of prohibiting liquor from being sold.
There were many incentives to do so. However, political officials did not take into account that people would get what they wanted regardless of the law. With prohibition, America was set for an untamed drinking binge that would last thirteen years, five months, and nine days (Behr 91). Prohibition, though it was dignified, was a great failure that taught the United States valuable lessons about crime and corruption. Prohibition is shorthand for this nation’s thirteen-year misadventure in legislating abstinence from alcohol (MHS 2009).
The results of the experiment are clear: innocent people suffered; organized crime grew into an empire; the police, courts, and politicians became increasingly corrupt; disrespect for the law grew; and the per capita consumption of the alcohol increased dramatically, year by year, for the thirteen years. You would think that a “Noble Experiment” with such clear results would not need to be repeated; but the experiment is being repeated; it’s going on today. Only the prohibited substances have changed. The results remain the same. They are more devastating now than they were then.
Prohibition in the United States was a measure designed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution took away the license to do business from the brewers, distillers, vintners, and the wholesale and retail sellers of alcoholic beverages (OSU, 2009). Many Americans wanted to do away with liquor altogether. The liquor industry had been proved a major factor in corruption and was tied in with prostitution, gambling, and organized crime.
Congress provided for an amendment that would make the entire country prohibition territory. Thirteen months after the 18th amendment was passed by Congress, Nebraska became the 36th state to ratify it January 16, 1919. The amendment became law January 17, 1920. The amendment read: 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 the 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 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 the congress (18th Amendment, Prohibition).
While it was illegal to manufacture or distribute beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquors it was not illegal to possess it for medicinal or sacramental use. The provision allowed Americans to possess alcohol in their homes and partake with family and guests as long as it stayed inside and was not distributed, traded or even given away to anyone outside the home. Another interesting provision to prohibition was that alcohol was available via a physician’s prescription.
For centuries liquor had been used for medicinal purposes, in fact many of the liquors we know today were first developed as miracle cures for various ailments. Liquor and wine licensed for “medicinal purposes” often wound up in the hands and stomachs of healthy citizens. Because of this established belief that liquor could cure and prevent a variety of ailments, doctors were still able to prescribe liquor to patients on a specially designed government prescription form that could be filled at any pharmacy.
When medicinal whiskey stocks were low the government would increase its production. A significant amount of the prescription alcohol supplies were diverted from their intended destinations by bootleggers and corrupt individuals during prohibition. The Catholic Church helped keep Prohibition from being a bigger disaster than it was. Churches and clergy had a provision as well, which allowed them to receive wine for sacrament. The Catholic Church certainly kept many wineries in business.
The number of wineries in the United States dropped from more than 1000 before Prohibition to 120 at its end, many of those that survived just made wines for the Church. A study performed in 1925, during the heart of Prohibition, found that demand for sacramental wine increased by 800,000 gallons in a two year period. Perhaps this demand was being legitimately made by churchgoers – Prohibition brought out a religious revival of its own – but it’s far more likely that people were purchasing sacramental wine for other uses (Jordan). Jewish families were also taking advantage of “sacramental” use.
Practicing Jewish Families were allowed one gallon per adult member per year, and sacramental wine was rationed-amounts determined by the number of registered worshippers in New York’s synagogues (Behr 157). Two of the most well known prohibition agents Izzy Einstein, and Moe Smith discovered a 600 member synagogue turned out to be a laundry (for alcohol). Another discovery from Einstein and Smith was a fictitious group called the “Assembly of Hebrew Orthodox Rabbis of America”. This so-called group consisted of a lone Irishman named Sullivan.
This also led to corruption, as there are many accounts of people certifying themselves as ministers and rabbis in order to obtain and distribute large quantities of sacramental wine. Even though Prohibition increased the consumption of wine by nearly 100 percent – as illegalizing anything will often do – many wineries were forced to close their doors. For those wineries that didn’t make sacramental wines, it was hard to get around the law and the grapes of wrath set in like no other time in history (Jordan). Prohibition drastically changed the wine industry, placing grapes everywhere out of a job.
The wineries that survived this era did so in part by transforming their grapes from wine-making grapes to grapes that served non-alcoholic purposes, such as Concord grapes used to make raisins, grape juice, and jam. The grape industry of California, in particular, was saved by the Volstead Act, which allowed fermented fruit juices to be produced at home, giving wineries a reason to stay open. This gave California wineries a way to break Prohibition rules. Those manning the wineries began producing a grape jelly called “Vine-go,” a jelly that, with the addition of water, would ferment into strong wine in roughly two months.
There are still some well-known wineries operational today that survived Prohibition. Beringer Vineyards, the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley made it through Prohibition by selling sacramental wines under a federal license allowing wine to be made for religious purposes. Beaulieu Vineyards survived and increased business four hundred percent by providing wines to the Catholic Church of San Francisco. Kunde Winery in Sonoma Valley, and Buena Vista Winery in Carneros sold their wine for sacramental purposes as well.
Gundlach Bundschu (Gun-lock-bun-shoe) Winery of Sonoma was forced to close their doors during Prohibition, but was able to hold on to 130 acres of land to produce “grape juice”. As Prohibition drew to a close, wineries that had stockpiled wine over the previous fourteen years were able to quench the thirst of some of the parched nation. However, since so many wineries had closed down and others had converted from wine-making grapes to other types of grapes, the wine industry took years to rebound. During this time of recovery, wines were continually made with less quality, hindering people from planting more vineyards (Jordan).
For a while after Prohibition, the wine industry was falling apart. As wineries began transforming back to growers of wine-making grapes, the quality of wine was eventually restored. Within a few years, the wine industry was on the upslope, and Americans were savoring each and every glass, probably now more than ever. For a citizen to easily get the alcohol, the majority of cities had speakeasies to replace the local saloon. In Rhode Island, one of the states that refused to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment or help enforce it, one could buy gin by the bottle right off the shelves.
Those who did not wish to support bootleggers and thus contribute to their crime and political corruption made their own “bathtub” gin at home or acquired home-brewed beer and cider. The federal government arrested over half a million people and secured over 300,000 for breaking the Volstead Act, but smuggling still increased. The eighteenth amendment provided no means of enforcement or penalties for violations, so Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1919, over President Wilson’s veto. The Volstead act provided the laws and the machinery to help enforce the Eighteenth Amendment (McCarthy 377. 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 one percent alcohol by volume. ” In spite of the strict Volstead Act, Prohibition proved to be difficult to enforce.
Overall drinking was generally thought to have declined, it continued in many parts of the country, particularly in large cities and in areas with large foreign-born populations. The Volstead Act, passed to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, had an immediate impact on crime. According to a study of 30 major U. S. cities, the number of crimes increased twenty four percent between 1920 and 1921 (Nishi 97). 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. Soon after prohibition went into effect, bootlegging started. Bootlegging was necessary because if gangsters, bootleggers, and speakeasies were to thrive, the liquor had to come from somewhere (Behr 92). From Canada chiefly, but also from Mexico, liquor flowed across the borders in a stanchless deluge. Under fake bills of lading, deceptively packaged and often with the connivance of Customs officials and shipping clerks, it entered the states by railroad, truck, passenger vehicle, and speedboat. Kobler 253). Off every port from Maine to Miami, ships waited with every variety of wine and liquor. Speed boats, fast enough to evade coast guard and enforcement agents, ran these cargoes ashore, where they were transferred to cars and trucks owned by bootleggers; The smugglers devised new ways of concealing the alcohol. For example, there had been a brisk business in blocks of iced shipped for domestic refrigeration from Ontario to the American border communities. One gang of smugglers conceived the idea of forming such blocks around unlabeled bottles of Gin and alcohol (Kobler 253).
Even though millions of gallons of illegal liquor reached the shores of America, “rum-running” trips frequently came to grief as a result of incompetence, communication failures, greed, and mutual mistrust (Behr 134). Alcohol that was not smuggled into the country was usually “converted” from something else by unconventional methods. Millions of gallons of industrial alcohol, manufacture of which was permitted, were converted into bootleg whisky or gin, and bottled under counterfeit labels. 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. 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 two thirds of all prisoners in 1930 were convicted on alcohol and drug charges. 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. Speakeasies were underground bars that discreetly served patrons liquor, often including food service, live bands and shows. The term speakeasy is said to come from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering so as not to be overheard some 30 years before prohibition.
Speakeasies were often unmarked or were behind or underneath legal businesses. Corruption was rampant during the time and although raids were common, owners would bribe police officers to ignore their business or give them notice of when a raid was planned. While the “speakeasy” was often funded by organized crime and could be very elaborate and upscale, the “blind pig” was a dive for the less desirable drinker. The bootleggers and the city officials found the Speakeasy’s very profitable. The bootleggers made money from their speakeasies and in turn paid off the police, politicians and corrupt prohibition agents.
One politician who made this arrangement possible was the mayor of Chicago, “Big Bill” William Hale Thompson. He saw to it that bootleggers had protection from the city’s police and politicians. Although Thompson was the Mayor, the person holding the majority of power, known as “the Mayor of Crook County,” was Alphonse Capone (Capeci 126). Prohibition, for many, was a gateway to power. The opportunities to become rich and powerful were abundant (Behr 88). This temptation drove such criminals as Al Capone to power.
Capone contended, in a statement revealing of the era, “Prohibition is a business. All I do is supply a public demand” (Norton 2007). Capone was born in Italian New York; he grew up around thug types and became a part of a gang at a young age. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899, of an immigrant family, Al Capone quit school after the sixth grade and associated with a notorious street gang, becoming accepted as a member. Johnny Torrio was the street gang leader and among the other members was Lucky Luciano, who would later attain his own notoriety (FBI History).
The streets became a new way of life, as Capone became more involved with the James Street Gang led by Johnny Torrio. Torrio, and his partner, Frankie Yale, soon hired Capone as a bouncer at one of their saloons. When required to subdue obstreperous carousers, his huge fists, unarmed or clutching a club, struck with the impact of a pile driver (Kobler 35). It was then that he obtained his most famous nickname, “Scarface,” after a bar altercation left his face slashed. About 1920, at Torrio’s invitation, Capone joined Torrio in Chicago where he had become an influential lieutenant in the Colosimo mob.
The rackets spawned by enactment of the Prohibition Amendment, illegal brewing, distilling and distribution of beer and liquor, were viewed as “growth industries. ” Torrio, abetted by Al Capone, intended to take full advantage of opportunities. The mobs also developed interests in legitimate businesses, in the cleaning and dyeing field, and cultivated influence with receptive public officials, labor unions and employees’ associations (FBI History). 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 to be easy. Bootlegging was already becoming widespread and was mainly controlled by the Irish Gang of Dion O’Banion. O’Banion grew up in a mostly Irish part of Chicago notorious citywide for its crime; it was known as “Little Hell”. 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 temper, O’Banion began to set up his bootlegging empire. Almost instantly Capone and Torrio butted heads with O’Banion, and a war began. “Tell them Sicilians to go to hell”. This was perhaps the most unfortunate outburst ever to escape a gang leader’s lips. By “Sicilians”, O’Banion meant all Italians (Kobler 127). 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.
In 1925, Capone became boss when Torrio, seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, surrendered control and retired to Brooklyn. Capone had built a fearsome reputation in the ruthless gang rivalries of the period, struggling to acquire and retain “racketeering rights” to several areas of Chicago. That reputation grew as rival gangs were eliminated or nullified. 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 (Capeci 128). The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 14, 1929, might be regarded as the culminating violence of the Chicago gang era, as seven members or associates of the “Bugs” Moran mob were machine-gunned against a garage wall by rivals posing as police. The massacre was generally thought to be executed by the Capone mob. At the time of the massacre, Capone was in Florida.
The massacre caused a crack down on the gangsters when Capone’s gang disguised as police officers gunned down members of a rival gang (FBI History). 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 November 24, 1931 Capone was sentenced to eleven years in jail, eventually being shipped off to Alcatraz. During his prison term Capone was diagnosed with syphilis. In November of 1939 he was released from prison and after spending time in a hospital he retired to his Palm Island estate.
On January 19, 1947 at the age of 48, Capone passed away from complications involving syphilis. Capone would go down in history as the most famous gangster of the Mob, and “the Kingpin of Crime during the 1920s. ” With the rise of this new, underground class, corruption grew. Politics became an occupation whereas gangsters with the highest bid employed politicians. It seemed that everyone was breaking the law; the consumption and selling of liquor had actually risen since prohibition started. In cities like Chicago, where a large organized crime network thrived, beat cops to criminal court and judges took bribes from bootleggers.
Al Capone’s criminal organization reportedly had half of Chicago’s police force on its payroll (Nishi 15). Seldom has any law been more flagrantly violated. Not only did Americans continue to manufacture, barter, and possess alcohol, they drank more of it. The results of the Noble Experiment are clear. Organized crime grew into an empire; disrespect for the law grew; and the per capita consumption of Alcohol increased dramatically. It is obvious that this “Noble Experiment” was not so noble but rather a failure on all accounts. Reasonable measures were not taken to enforce the laws and so they were practically ignored.
People violated the law, drinking more of the substance that was originally prohibited. The problems prohibition intended to solve, such as crime, grew worse and was damaging to the people and society it was meant to help. Prohibition should not have gone on for the thirteen years it was allowed to damage society. There are many reasons why the “Noble Experiment” failed. The number one reason was because Americans still wanted to drink. Whenever something is in high demand, there will always be someone willing to supply it. Many people thought that Prohibition would be good for mankind and end corruption.
Unfortunately Prohibition became a major source of crime and corruption. Prohibition was perhaps the largest mistake ever made by the United States. In January 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was enacted, making illegal the sale, importation and consumption of liquor. Prohibition, as it was known, would last until December 1933. Out of Prohibition was born the illegal liquor trade and terms such as “Rum Runner”, “Bootlegger” and “Speak Easy” became part of everyday vocabulary. Organized Crime was the prime benefactor of Prohibition and prospered by supplying the liquor and by employing murder, intimidation, extortion and bribery.
Prohibition was the longest, saddest, wettest, craziest, bloodiest adventure in American history. May it never attempt to repeat itself. Works Cited Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that changed America. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996. Print. Behr’s book offers a thorough and comprehensive history of the Thirteen Years that changed America. Prohibition, as Behr illustrates, was a period of rampant corruption maintained by vicious violence and widespread dishonesty. He offers the full story of those thirteen years of temperance, crime, and corruption, telling how and why it all happened
Capeci, Jerry. The Mafia. Penguin Group, 2004. Print. Capeci’s book explains what the mafia is and how it operates and offered an in depth look at its history. He points out that Prohibition gave the Mafia via Al Capone the boost that it needed. Jerry Capeci is the foremost expert on the “Mob”. Clark, Norman. Deliver Us from Evil; An Interpretation of American Prohibition. Toronto: Norton, 1976. Print Clark in this book goes in depth and explains all the social activities throughout the different phases of Prohibition. From Temperance, to legislation, to repeal.
He goes into detail about the development of the distillation process of alcohol and how that led to an increase in public drunkenness. He looks at the relationship between liquor control and its effect on the American family. Coffey, Thomas. The long thirst: Prohibition in America. Norton, 1975. Print. This book offers an insight into the filthiness of some of the policing and politics of the big city – New York and Chicago. He offers an insight into Al Capone, who hadn’t filed an income tax return for years despite making millions out of illegal booze and crime. Cohen, Daniel. Prohibition; America Makes Alcohol Illegal.
Millbrook Pr, 1995. Print Daniel Cohen’s book discusses temperance movements in the United States, and the impact that the prohibition of alcohol had on the nation. A great, easy read outlining enforcement, criminal activity, and the final days of the “Noble Experiment”. Depalma, Brian. The Untouchables. Paramount Pictures. 1987 Depalma’s film inspired my research for this paper. I have always been intrigued by the Mob, but never before have I read or watched something that looked at crime from the lawmaker’s point of view. The cast was fantastic, and the detail as it related to Prohibition in Chicago was dead on.
Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. London, Michael Joseph Ltd, 1974. Print Kobler’s book gave an interesting and accurate account of what America was like during Prohibition. Kobler offers firsthand accounts of the troubling time in our nation’s history. Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone. New York, G. P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1971. Print Kobler quotes the amusing and often startling comments relating to the efforts of prohibitionists and lawmakers, so that the speakeasies, the rum-running, the bootleggers, and the gang wars all come vividly to life.
He cites specific interviews with people who remember Prohibition. McCarthy, Raymond. Drinking and Intoxication: Selected Readings in Social Attitudes and Controls. New Haven, College and University Press, 1959. Print This book offered insight into pre-prohibition drinking in the U. S. , a great synopsis of the Anti Saloon League, and other organizations that were related to Prohibition. Nishi, Dennis. Prohibition. Greenhaven Pr, 2004. Print A well written view of the historical, social, and political issues surrounding Prohibition.
This book offered some insight into the crime and corruption of the era. Norton, Mary. A People and a Nation: since 1865. Houghton Mifflin College Div, 2005. Print. Our text became a great resource for virtually anything related to the history of the United States. Its short synopsis on Prohibition dealt more with crime and Al Capone than anything else. It quotes Capone as saying, “All I do is supply a public demand”. Great resource. American Temperance and Prohibition. Ohio State University, Dept. of History. Nov 18, 2009, http://www. history. ohio-state. edu/projects/prohibition/default. htm
This article offered a good introduction to the political history of America’s struggles with alcohol, from the temperance movement to the repeal of Prohibition. Anti-Saloon League Organization “Anti-Saloon League. ” Nov 20, 2009. http://www. wpl. lib. oh. us:80/AntiSaloon/ The Anti-Saloon League was the leading organization lobbying for Prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century. This website offered a history of The Anti Saloon League, before during, and after prohibition. FBI Famous Cases: Al Capone. Nov 28, 2009 http://www. fbi. gov/libref/historic/famcases/capone/capone. htm
This source was a to the point synopsis of Al Capone’s life in Organized Crime. It talks of his early life of crime through his conviction in 1931 Jordan, Jennifer. “Wine During Prohibition. ” EzineArticles. com. Nov 27, 2009. http://ezinearticles. com/? Wine-During-Prohibition;id=297426. This web article was particularly interesting to me because of the author’s insight into the wine industry during prohibition. She points out that wineries began producing a grape jelly called “Vine-go,” a jelly that, with the addition of water, would ferment into strong wine. Wish I could do that today.
Szandzik , Eric. Prohibition. Michigan University, James Madison College. Nov 28, 2009. https://www. msu. edu/~szandzi2/alcapone/prohibition. html This wed source offered a closer look at Al Capone and his life of crime during Prohibition. I was enlightened with the author’s story of corruption in Chicago. Temperance and Prohibition. Ohio State University Dept of Humanities. Nov 18, 2009 http://prohibition. osu. edu/content/why_prohibition. cfm This source offered great insight into the Anti-Saloon League. This source also answered the question; Why Prohibition was enacted.
The Volstead Act and Related Prohibition Docs. The National Archives. Nov 24, 2009, http://www. archives. gov/education/lessons/volstead-act A credible source for information on the Volstead Act. This was also my source for the Eighteenth Amendment. Prohibition in the United States. 1920-1930. com. November 30, 2009 http://www. 1920-30. com/prohibition/ The web address alone describes the perfect source for all Prohibition related material. From this site, I focused my research bootlegging. I found it interesting that ships three miles off the coast of the United States were exempt from Federal Law.
Government owned ships were known to have Wine ; Whiskey lists on board. Homemade Wine Prohibitions. Ehow. com. December 4, 2009 http://www. ehow. com/about_5431821_homemade-wine-prohibitions. html Six months after the Volstead Act was passed, the Internal Bureau of Revenue struck down Section 29, allowing individuals to produce wine, provided that its consumption took place in the home and was not for commercial distribution; moreover, production could not exceed 200 gallons per year in a given household. Homemade wine became exceptionally popular. Home brewing is still popular today.