Era of Prohibition and Organized Crime Relationship

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Prohibition is a period that lasted for 13 years that made the distribution and production of alcohol illegal. There are many who believed that the movement of the prohibition was beneficial to the American society, however, many had thought that alcohol and its effects on the body was enough reason to stop the distribution of alcohol being produced. The 1920s to 1933 was a time with speakeasies, bootleggers and gangsters and a period when the average citizen broke the law. The 1920s was a time that led to prohibition and illegal selling of alcohol, which in turn resulted in an uproar of organized crime.


Prohibition was an era that lasted from 1920 to 1933The roaring twenties was a spectacular time in American history. The 1920s was noted for jazz music, economic prosperity where the wealthy enjoyed unfathomable amounts of money and the progression of women’s rights. With the ban of alcohol society saw the effects of alcoholism many proposed prohibition and saw that alcoholism was a reason for increased family violence and political corruption. Prohibition was ratified in January 1920 and soon after under the 18th Amendment the sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited in the United States. Unfortunately, not all was golden in the 1920s. The age of economic boom was devastated with the great depression in 1929. With the great depression in 1929, the 1920s also came to be known as the age of Prohibition (George, R. & Richard, D. 2019).

Eighteenth Amendment

Even though the 18th Amendment contains only 111 words. In the 18th Amendment only the first two sections were relevant. The 18th Amendment was a measure taken by the United States government to reduce drinking and crime by outlawing the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages (Wheeler, W.B. 1920). With the start of Prohibition, many thought that sales would increase. However, sales dramatically decreased. The question did not provide the specificity needed to permit its enforcement. For example, what was the penalty for manufacturing it? Could it be produced for medicinal and health purposes? What about religious purposes? And finally, what was the punishment related to the sale of illegal alcohol? There was much confusion over what kinds of alcohol the amendment outlawed. Another question referring to alcohol beverages or just spirits? Those were the questions regarding the 18th Amendment since it was vague on its interpretations. To clear up the confusion, Congress passed the Volstead Act (George, R. & Richards, D. 2019).

Volstead Act

The National Prohibition Act of 1919 (Volstead Act) was to answer the above questions. Even though President Woodrow Wilson tried to veto this act it failed based on technical grounds because due to it also being wartime. This act was to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment and to establish the prohibition in the United States which further prohibited the transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act (Eighmey, R. 2019). The Volstead Act stated in its provision that the legal alcohol content was 0.5 percent (U.S. History, 2019). There were three purposes of the Volstead Act. The first one is to This ban on alcohol beverages, the second purpose was to be in control of the manufacture, production and the use and sale of high proof spirits for other purposes. The third purpose was to ensure that there was an ample supply of alcohol for scientific research such as the making of fuel and dyes and for legal industrial needs (American Historama, 2019).

Even though the law was widely ignored throughout the 1920s and drinking continued. The production, importing and distributin of alcohol was taken over by private individuals and criminal gangs. The enforcement of alcohol sales, which includes exporting and importing alcohol was impossible. There was massive corruption among public officials and the police. The coastguards were not paid generously, so they were open to bribery and patrolling the boarders was pointless in stopping alcohol entering and exiting the United States. Smuggling was on a large scale and very hard to prevent (Taylor, B, 2018). Due to the banning of alcohol, businesses hard a very hard time making ends meet. Therefore, the saloons would stay open and offer nonalcoholic beverages and since there was a demand still for alcohol, they would sell it underground.

Effects of Prohibition

Prohibition was the cause for major social and financial issues, which resulted in negative economic effects and organized crime. Supporters for Prohibition expected sales to increase such as in household goods, real estate developers and neighborhoods improvements. These groups pushed for religious and moral reasons that they had their own agenda. With the increase of immigrants led to an increase in urbanization and this was said to cause an increase in violence. With economic affecting society there was a decline across the board on restaurants, saloons closing and in entertainment (Lerner, M., 2019).

Anti-Saloon League

Founded in Oberlin, Ohio in 1893 was known as the Anti-Saloon League (Anti-Saloon League, 2019). This was a political group that drew much of its support from protestant churches in the southern areas of the United States. Since they were a religious group, they believed that their actions were for God and used this to justify their actions. The Anti-Saloon League aimed to free the United States to what was believed to be the root of all evil, alcohol. After the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, The league went for strict enforcement of the Prohibition laws. By 1950 it had merged with other groups to Form the National Temperance League.

Woman’s Christion Temperance Union

Prohibition was the growth of Christian organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which is older than the Anti-Saloon League. Women were very strongly behind the temperance movement which supported the 18th Amendment. They felt alcohol was looked upon as a destroyer to families and marriages and that men are spending money on alcohol and leaving the women home with no money to provide for their children (Rosenberg, J., 2019). By the late 18th century the WCTU lobbied for local laws restricting alcohol and therefore were able to claim success which varied on demographics. Although very successful they lobbied at every level of the government in their mission (McMahon, M 2019).


The were loopholes that existed during the era of prohibition. The 18th Amendment did not mention the actual drinking of liquor. This loophole allowed families to make 200 gallons of “fruit juice or wine for their own consumption. This was a way for the farmers to preserve the grapes and sell the wine to churches and physician’s offices.

Another loopholes were for medicinal liquor. The Volstead Act permitted alcohol consumption if the physician prescribed it. The Prescription was written for $3.00 and then taken to your local pharmacy where you were able to return home with a pint of liquor every 10 days (Okrent, D. 2011). Even though the Medical Association was in support of the Prohibition it realized that with this loophole there was an opportunity to make money.

The Catholics and the Jews were opposed to Prohibition; however, wine is used by Catholics during Communion and the Jews used wine for their Sabbath services. They were entitled under the rules 10 gallons per adult per year. Since there was no way to keep track whom really was a Rabbi, people went out to obtain a rabbi license and they were then able to purchase liquor for their churches and synagogues. Those foundations would purchase in excess and they saw an increase in their congregation (Okrent, D., 2011).


Since there was such a large market for alcohol, and with the illegal market for alcohol, criminal organizations opened houses for prostitution and the sale of alcohol businesses where opened. Even though there were small-time operators they were faced with competition from other organized criminal gangs that fought for control of the market with violence and murder (PBS., (2011).

Bootleggers and moonshiners found it necessary to payoff police, sheriffs. Many towns and cities including mayors, prosecutors, chiefs were corrupt. If bribes didn’t work, there was always violence that was used in its place (Prohibition, 2013).

For bootleggers and gangsters to stay in business there had to be large amounts of alcohol were flowing across the border of Canada and Mexico. Alcohol was also delivered by railroad, truck, passenger vehicles (Kobler, J., 1993). The problem with bootlegging is the inability to enforce the law. Those that were caught smuggling in liquor were let go by the police by being paid off with alcohol. With the rapid growth of organized crime, it created a demand for illegal alcohol which criminals could sell at high prices.

Prohibition resulted in the sale of illegal liquor it also resulted in many deaths and led to the rise of organized crime in Chicago. During the 1920s death by alcohol was common. If alcohol did not kill you from illegal Moonshine from poisoning death occurred either by fighting over possession of alcohol or from an illegal sell gone wrong. Bloodshed increased by either being shot or stabbed to death during a fight. Soon there was a pattern of hit-and-runs and drive-by shooting as men are shot sitting in their cars. These murders were connected to organized crime such as gangsters (Kelly, Debra, 2014).


Al Capone

One of the most notorious gangsters that ran a crime organized syndicate in Chicago in the 1920s was Al Capone, born Brooklyn, New York in 1899. Al Capone quit school after the 6th grade and was associated with a street gang in New York and was accepted as a member. The streets became a way of living and meet Johnny Torrio whom was a gang leader (Kobler, J., 1974). Al Capone earned the name of “Scarface” where he worked as a bouncer and from a young man that was outraged from him sitting talking to a woman. The young man was the brother to the woman he was speaking with. He received three slashes on his face, hence, the name of Scarface. Capone was known to be very charming and very charitable as well as powerful and malicious. Capone expanded the organization to involve other gangs in Chicago. Torrio and Capone controlled the south side which George “Bugs” Moran controlled the north. These two sides had it in for one another and in January 1925, Moran’s men attacked Torrio injuring him. Although frightened for his life, Torrio left the crime scene and fled the country leaving Capone in charge (Pettinger, T., 2017).

At the age of 26 years old, Capone was now in charge of a very large crime organization that included nightclubs, race tracks, gambling establishments, restaurants, breweries and distilleries. Capone’s estimated financial record of earnings was $100 million at the time of this death. Along with all his illegal holdings he was known to be very generous. He was known to help the needy during winter by offering coal and clothes to those that needed help, along with helping those that could not afford college by paying the tuition. With him being generous to the average citizen there were those that considered him a modern-day Robin Hood (Deblis Law, 2019).

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Capone was responsible for several murders; however, he always has an alibi and was out of town when the killings occurred. The most notorious killing was on February 14, 1949, which became known as “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Capone had ordered four of his men to dress like police and to enter a garage on North Clark street. This was the headquarters of George “Bugs” Moran’s bootlegging operations. When seeing the uniforms of the police The Moran gang dropped their guns and put their hands against the wall. Capone’s men then gunned them down and six gang members were shot. With images of the dead lying against the wall from the press Capone’s image started to falter. Not long after the public heard this Capone became known as public enemy number 1 (Bean, A. 2018).

After committing murder and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre this attention lead to having the attention to push for having Capone arrested.

Tax Evasion

The federal government had to have an attack plan. One part of this plan included the collection of evidence of Prohibition violations and closing Capone’s illegal businesses. Eliot Ness and his workers raided Capone’s breweries. The second part of this plan was to find evidence of Capone not paying taxes on his income. The IRS found incriminating ledgers and even some witnesses were willing to testify. He was arrested in Philadelphia in 1929 on weapons charge and served nine months in jail and the continuation of tax evasion investigation Capone was charged in 1931 and tried in Chicago (FBI, 2019).


Capone was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He served seven, most of them at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. At Alcatraz, he became known as inmate number 85. He worked hard to manipulate the system by bribery. However, that failed once the warden received word of his planning. While in jail Capone was still able to stay out of trouble and ended up in fights which lead to his solitary confinement. Due to his fame, he was a target of attacks. He was stabbed in the back, inmates claimed he was a snitch and they wanted him dead. After serving time in prison he was released in 1939 and went home to Florida.

While in prison he was diagnosed with Syphilis and was reported to have dementia due to the advanced stages of the disease. It was documented that Capone contacted Syphilis sometime before his marriage and the birth of his first son. At home his disease progressed and passed away in 1947 in Miami, Florida (Kelly, 2018).


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  2. Anti-Saloon League, 2019). Retrieved April 30, 2019, https://prohibition.osu.edu/anti-saloon-league.
  3. Bean, Alex, 2018. What’s Left of the Site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? https://www.chicagodetours.com/whats-left-site-st-valentines-day-massacre/.
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  8. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-xviii.
  9. Eighmey, Rae. ‘National Prohibition Act (Volstead Act).’ MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/thing/national-prohibition-act-volstead-act. Accessed April 22, 2019).
  10. Kelly, Debra, 2014. 10 Fun Stories About America’s Bootleggers. Retrieved from https://listverse.com/2014/09/03/10-fun-stories-about-americas-bootleggers/.
  11. Kelly, Lyn, 2018. Al Capone: American gangster; syphilis victim. Retrieved from https://www.history101.com/al-capone-gangster-syphilis-victim/.
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  14. PBS, 2011, Retrieved from Unintended consequences, http://p.b.s.org/kenburns/prohibiton/unintended-consequences/.
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  19. Wheeler, W. B. (1920) The eighteenth amendment and its enforcement. Address by Wayne B. Wheeler, LL. D. at the National conference, Washington, D. C., Westerville, Ohio. 1920. Westerville. [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.1380240c/.

Cite this paper

Era of Prohibition and Organized Crime Relationship. (2020, Dec 07). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/era-of-prohibition-and-organized-crime-relationship/



how did prohibition contribute to the growth of organized crime?
Prohibition contributed to the growth of organized crime by creating a black market for alcohol, which allowed criminal organizations to profit from the sale and distribution of illegal alcohol. The ban on alcohol also led to increased corruption among law enforcement officials and politicians, who were bribed by criminal groups to turn a blind eye to their activities.
why did organized crime increase during prohibition?
The increase in organized crime during prohibition was due to the increase in demand for illegal alcohol. This created a profitable market for criminal organizations to supplying this demand.
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