Prohibition: The Rise of Organized Crime
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, and the wholesale and retail sellers of alcoholic beverages. The leaders of the prohibition movement were concerned with the drinking behavior of Americans and made an attempt to improve the country. Unfortunately, they were about to discover that making Prohibition the law had been one thing; enforcing it would be another. Therefore, causing a major problem in the United States. The result of prohibition led to higher crime rates, excessive violence, and a rise to powerful criminals whose vast sums of money by bootlegging started the concept of organized crime. Immigration was a main contributor of the birth of organized crime in the prohibition era. The article “Mafia” reports that, “The number of Italian immigrants soared from 20,000 to 250,000 between 1880 and 1890, by 1910 that number jumped to 500,000 immigrants. “Mafia” further mentions that, “There was a wave of Italians that flocked to America during the 19th and 20th century, most of these citizens were law-abiding, but some were criminals who formed neighborhood gangs”. Along with the arrivals from the Italians, Woodiwiss adds, bootlegging unexpectedly presented second generation Jews, Sicilians, Poles, Slavs who had opportunities to climb the criminal hierarchy (8). David Okrent points out in his book, “While population tripled, the population’s capacity for beer had increased. Americans drank 36 gallons in 1850; by 1890 consumption had exploded to 855 million gallons” (545). Okrent declares, “Immigration was responsible, the German’s brought beer, but also a generation of men who knew how to make, sell, and market alcohol” (547). During this era, these ethnic gangs became skilled at smuggling, money laundering, bribing public officers, and most importantly creating a bootlegging liquor business (“Mafia”). The article “Organized,” article states, “The bootlegging industry was highly profitable, this fueled many gang wars and the Mafia”. Thus, Immigration influenced the start of organized crime. More importantly, the 18th amendment fueled gangs to launch the bootlegging industry. Powerful criminals called gangsters arose from prohibition creating empires of illegal liquor businesses to supply Americans with the banned substance. As David Okrent states in his book The Last Call, “The liquor industry wasn’t dead, of course; a new version, this one illegal, underground would soon emerge with the birth of the dry utopia” (2295). Many Americans found ways to violate the law and satisfy their craving of alcohol. Witwer mentions in his article, people could drink at illegal business called speakeasies. Author David Okrent states, “It didn’t take much more than a bottle and two chairs to make a speakeasy, but once those fundamentals were in place the permutations were endless” (4055). There was a great demand for liquor and someone had to fulfill and supply this illegal product (Witwer), and “It was organized crime who supplied the booze” (Nash). Prohibition spurred the growth of crime groups who violated the law by supplying this illicit product to Americans and the illegal market of United States. Prohibition is the leading cause to why organized crime became a huge problem in the 1920’s. The prohibition and the economic depression had a huge impact on people, causing an atmosphere of despair and criminal activity (Nash). Nash points out further in his article, “Jobs began to be scarce and people needed to find a way to provide for their families, gangsterism was dangerous, but an easy way to make money”. Alcohol was no longer legal and people turned to gangsters, who took on the bootlegging industry, therefore providing them with liquor...
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Okrent, Daniel. Last Call The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York, NY: Scribner,
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