Prohibition and the Gangsters
The 18th Amendment had banned the sale, transportation and manufacture of alcohol in America. But it was clear to some, that millions neither wanted this law nor would respect it. There was obviously a huge market for what in the 1920’s was an illegal commodity. It was the gangsters who dominated various cities who provided this commodity. Each major city had its gangster element but the most famous was Chicago with Al Capone.
Capone was “Public Enemy Number 1”. He had moved to Chicago in 1920 where he worked for Johnny Torrio the city’s leading figure in the underworld. Capone was given the task of intimidating Torrio’s rivals within the city so that they would give up and hand over to Torrio their territory. Capone also had to convince speakeasy operators to buy illegal alcohol from Torrio.
Capone was very good at what he did. in 1925, Torrio was nearly killed by a rival gang and he decided to get out of the criminal world while he was still alive. Torrio handed over to Capone his ‘business’.
Within 2 years, Capone was earning $60 million a year from alcohol sales alone. Other rackets earned him an extra $45 million a year.
Capone managed to bribe both the police and the important politicians of Chicago. He spent $75 million on such ventures but considered it a good investment of his huge fortune. His armed thugs patrolled election booths to ensure that Capone’s politicians were returned to office. The city’s mayor after 1927 was Big Bill Thompson – one of Capone’s men. Thompson said
|“We’ll not only reopen places these people have closed, but we’ll open 10,000 new ones (speakeasies).|
For all his power, Capone still had enemies from other surviving gangs in the city. He drove everywhere in an armour plated limousine and wherever he went, so did his armed bodyguards. Violence was a daily occurrence in Chicago. 227 gangsters were killed in the space of 4 years and on St Valentine’s Day, 1929, 7 members of the O’Banion gang were shot dead by gangsters dressed as police officers.
In 1931, the law finally caught up with Capone and he was charged with tax evasion. He got 11 years in jail. In prison, his health went and when he was released, he retired to his Florida mansion no longer the feared man he was from 1925 to 1931.