Roaring Twenties Project

By: Marissa Garceau and Mandalynn Seaton

Thesis:

During the Roaring Twenties, organized crime became very popular and changed America's social functions.
A Night in the Life of a 1920's Gangster

Speakeasies, Prohibition and Bootlegging

Prohibition accelerated the rise and organization of a new kind of crime that had never been experienced in America. It began in January of 1920. The sale and supply of alcohol was banned on the assumption that it would slow crime and violence (1). Americans were divided in their views of prohibition. Those in favor were called drys, while those opposed were called wets. One of the reasons why alcohol was opposed was due to studies that showed alcohol to be harmful (2). Drys also were concerned with the power breweries, who also owned saloons, were gaining.

The amendment that legalized prohibition, the 18th amendment, caused the doubling of bars and saloons, which were illegal. Speakeasies were illegal establishments where alcohol was consumed. In New York alone, there were thirty thousand speakeasies (2). The police were aware that speakeasies were existent, but due to understaffing, and underpaying there were not able to control them in a satisfactory fashion.

Bootleggers transported illegal alcohol in cars, which were a relatively new invention at the time. More than one half of the country disregarded the law in the 1920’s (3). The American government made an organization to control the illegal alcohol. It was named the Federal Prohibition Bureau. The FPI only caught about five percent of the alcohol that was being transported (1).

Prohibition changed America’s perspective on crime. For the first time in the United States, crime was very prominent and powerful. As for Prohibitions effect on today, organized crime is still rather noticeable and more of a concern. The rise of organized crime forever changed America by drawing attention to the illegal activities that were less distinguishable.


About Al Capone and his Reputation with the People

During the 1920’s, there was a huge rise in gang activity. Every major had their own sets of gangs. One of the most popular gangsters of the time was Al Capone, who was in control of Chicago. In the video we created, we modeled it somewhat after Al Capone by imagining what a night in his life would have been like. Al Capone was born into a poor Italian immigrant family in 1899. At age 14, he was expelled from school and soon became associated with a gang, with Johnny Torrio as the leader (3). He later moved to Chicago by Torrio’s request and eventually took over as gang leader when Torrio was severely injured (4). Although Capone and his gang committed many crimes, most notably the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, people thought of him as a celebrity. He would get up to 2,000 letters a week of fan mail from people all over the world. According to Capone, he had been offered to play roles in movies numerous times, but he decline simply saying, “It’s just not something I’m interested in doing. No amount of money would convince me to be in a movie.” (5) Capone was always in the news; the media reported what he was doing constantly. The FBI was never able to convict him for most of his crimes, until 1931 when he was convicted for tax evasions and prohibition charges. This still didn’t change the way the public fantasized about Capone (4).


Sources

(1)Nash, Tim. "Organized Crime in the 1920's and Prohibition." Organized Crime in the 1920's and Prohibition. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://www.thefinertimes.com/20th-Century-Crime/organised-crime-in-the-1920s.html.

(2)"Prohibition." UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History. Sonia Benson, Daniel E. Brannen, Jr., and Rebecca Valentine. Vol. 6. Detroit: UXL, 2009. 1264-1268. Student Resources in Context. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

(3)"1920s' Prohibition: Moonshine, Bootleggers, and Speakeasies." 1920s' Prohibition: Moonshine, Bootleggers, and Speakeasies. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://www.vintageperiods.com/prohibition.php.

(4) "Al Capone," The Biography.com website, http://www.biography.com/people/al-capone-9237536(accessed Jan 22 2015).

(5) FBI. May 21, 2010. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/al-capone.

(6) Littleton, Cynthia. "'Boardwalk Empire' Revisits Variety's 1931 Interview with Al Capone." Variety. September 15, 2014. Accessed January 23, 2015. http://variety.com/2014/tv/news/boardwalk-empire-revisits-varietys-1931-interview-with-al-capone-1201305823/.