Through the criminal
experience gained and the political connections established in gambling
and prostitution rackets in the early 1900s, gangsters had become
well prepared for the exploitation of Prohibition, which was ratified
as the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 1919. Illegalizing the production,
distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages - all of which
were corollaries to the amendment - did not curb the desire of Chicagoans
for liquor or beer. This great demand for and simultaneous illegalization
of alcohol opened up a new illegal market for the gangster to develop
and monopolize. As Al Capone put it,
"All I do is to supply a public demand
to throw some liquor on that thirst. Why not me?" (Sullivan,
This thirst repeatedly
seen in the literature pertaining to Chicago's early 1900s (Prohibition
- Literature Analysis).
change for the worse - or to the worst - was exactly coincidental
with the beginning of prohibition" (Sullivan,
182). This was mostly due to Al Capone's
arrival to Chicago in 1920, when he inherited the leadership
of Torrio's gang. It is important to note that this is the same
year that Prohibition became enforced, although ratified in
1919. Capone had a brilliant criminal mind, and he focused it
on organizing an international bootlegging (on this page, meaning
specifically the illegal production, distribution, and sale
of alcohol) ring . He coordinated the importation of alcohol
from different locations, including other states and even Canada,
as well as the operation of hundreds of breweries and distilleries,
many of which resided in Chicago. Capone also devised a system
to distribute his alcohol, which involved delivery truck drivers,
salespeople, speakeasies (equivalent to a bar), and of course
heavily-armed bodyguards to protect these investments.
illustration of a Chicago speakeasy during the early 1900s
during Prohibition (Citation).
criminal or the boy brought up in gang culture approaches
his 'trouble with the law' as a matter which can be met in
a thousand ways - there are friends and 'fixers', perjury,
bribery and intimidation" (Landesco, 211).
Since all of these activities
were deemed illegal under Prohibition,
Capone bought legal immunity by administering bribes to police and
politicians. He practically paid off every law enforcement agent
and politician in the districts in which he operated his illegal
businesses. These bribes, although sometimes on the order of a quarter
of a million dollars, were relatively easy for Capone to dish out
considering that he was earning over 100 million dollars per year
This was most likely
drawn before or after Prohibition, as hinted by the fact the
government is included in the cash breakdown, but nonetheless,
this cartoon illustrates how lucrative the manufacture of
alcohol was (Bentley Historical
Profits of this magnitude
are not surprising for several reasons. Firstly, upon the initiation
of Prohibition, Capone essentially took over the business of the
nation's thousands of breweries and distilleries. Since Capone was
more than willing to disobey the law and had control over hundreds
of professional criminals, he was, in effect, handed a monopoly
on alcohol production by the ratification of Prohibition. Also,
"there was no let-up in the demand [for alcohol] at any time"
(Sullivan, 94). These massive profits,
which enabled the payoff of even the highest state governmental
officials, revolutionized organized crime with respect to the number
of individuals involved, the level of complexity of political alliances,
and intertwinement with normal, everyday life. The profits also
allowed Capone to construct more speakeasies, gambling joints, whorehouses,
breweries, and distilleries within the city, and even in the suburbs
The idea that money can
buy power was lucidly verified by gangsters such as Capone: bootlegging
funds led to both political and violent physical power. This power
enabled gangs to find new avenues to exploit, as well as new ways
to run old types business, such as gambling.
and a host of other gangsters and 'racketeers',
who first came into prominence as the distrubuters of liquor
concessions, found that with such weapons as bombs, sawed-off
shotguns, machine-guns, and the threat of being 'taken for a
ride', they need not confine themselves to the 'beer racket'
and the distribution of beer privileges" (Landesco,
A profitable and common business of the organized criminal appearing
after the start of Prohibition was labor racketeering. This type
of crime involved the infiltration of gangsters into legitimate
business; commonly workers' unions. The power of gangs such as Capone's,
which was achieved from their successes in bootlegging, enabled
them to make and back up the violent threats necessary to push their
way into legitimate business. Anybody who was confronted by a gangster
wanting in on their business knew they must yield in fear of being
A typical example of labor racketeering would be where a gangster
poses as a member of a specific union with the intent of taking
it over and collecting money from the salaries of the legit members
of the union, or by pilfering fractions of the members' monthly
dues. The gangster would often hire substitute union members, pay
them less than what they would normally be paid for their work,
and pocket the difference. Because it was "nearly impossible
to differentiate among the partners - the businessman [was] a politician,
the politician [was] a gangster, and the gangster [was] a businessman"
(Demaris, 3), it was very difficult
to detect and prosecute criminals involved in this type of activity.
This activity was also difficult to stop because it provided the
involved gangster with the front of being a legitimate worker, and
served as a plausible explanation for a source of income. Additionally,
any opposition - including witnesses planning to testify against
gang activities, and enraged union members - was immediately killed
by the gangsters.
The involvement of gangsters with legitimate business was not always
done against the will of the businesses they infiltrated, and in
some situations, the labor racketeer was called forth to improve
business. This was the case for businesses and companies trying
to control their competition while still circumventing the Sherman
Anti-trust Act and injunctions of courts that prohibited collective
bargaining and price fixing. These businesses desired a stable market,
and they wished to establish this through raising and fixing the
prices of their products or services. Labor racketeers were 'hired'
by legitimate businesses to do this, and to raise the wages earned
by their workers and the prices of the products they produced through
threats of violence. The power of the mob was evident by the numbers
of people who yielded to its requests, and by the fact that the
non-compliant were ruthlessly murdered. For his services in helping
these businesses, the racketeer earned a portion of the profits.
The number and types of different labor unions, insurance agencies,
and businesses that labor racketeers extorted is quite amazing.
Unions ranging from the Chicago Restaurant Association to the Landry,
Cleaning and Dye House Workers International Union had been taken
over by gangsters. Mobsters such as Joseph "Joey" Glimco
were involved with and profited from companies such as Yellow Cab,
Checker Taxi, and various Jaguar automobile dealerships in the Midwest.
Through corrupt means, Glimco became a trustee of the funds of the
Occidental Life Insurance Company, and was on the payroll of Paolo
Salce Incorporated, a road paving company employed by the city of
Chicago itself, which received $4 million contracts each year. Through
these and other similar illegitimate sources of money, Glimco was
estimated to earn $840,000 per year (Demaris,
38). Although he had to hand most of this over to his superiors,
he still had enough left "to keep him in silk underwear, Cadillacs
and mistresses" (Demaris, 36).
According to Landesco, there were two main reasons why such labor
racketeering prevailed: because of "a situation of cutthroat
competition among small business enterprises", and secondly
because of "a tradition of lawlessness and violence in Chicago"
of other Gangs
Racketeering did not stop with infiltrating only legitimate businesses.
Often, powerful gangs would terrorize other inferior gangs in order
to steal a certain percentage of their profits. The inferior gangs
found themselves faced with the proposition of either being killed
and having their businesses destroyed by means such as bombing,
or 'donating' some of their proceeds to the superior gangs. Again,
as in racketeering in legitimate businesses, these types of threats
were validated through the power granted by financial success and
a high degree of organization resulting from income gained from
Capone's gang, the mob, was notorious for this type of coercion.
"To [his] syndicate every gambling house keeper, handbook owner,
vice resort keeper, and beer runner had to contribute a percentage
of the income derived from their enterprises, or risk being blown
up or 'taken for a ride'" (Landesco,
80). These violent acts and threats usually could be carried
out without any legal consequences, for the mob was practically
immune to the law as a result of the bribery of police and politicians
alike. See the page titled "The Law
- History and Background" for further description of the
corruption of the law that was invoked by Chicago gangsters.
The mob also conducted complete takeovers of the business of rival
gangs. Capone stripping the gambling business away from Mont Tennes
serves as an example. With the profits Capone enjoyed from his bootlegging
activities, he could afford to pay out over half a million dollars
a month to politicians for the protection of his properties (gambling
joints, breweries, etc) across the city of Chicago (Landesco,
81). By bribing government officials, Capone could also order
his competitors' breweries, gambling joints, and other illegal establishments
to be raided and destroyed by his crooked law enforcement agents.
One key politician who received part of this was Mayor William
Hale Thompson. By manipulating the government in this fashion,
Capone was rarely troubled by police raids of his gambling establishments,
and succeeded in making Chicago "the center of race track gambling
in the nation" (Sullivan, 183).
Capone's gambling business was so closely affiliated with the law,
which also benefited financially from his business, that police
'overlooked' his slot machines which were found in places as blatant
and public as drug stores.
Prohibition was a period of time accompanied by "the
greatest crime record ever attained by a nation" (Sullivan,