The Roaring Twenties: “Gangsters and Feds”The Roaring Twenties wasthe decade which started with the celebration of the end of the “Great War” (1919) and endedcatastrophically with the great “Crash”of Wall Street (1929). That was a period where dramatic changes took place inthe United States. “New Morality” appearedthat decade, which was more permissive than the previous one. “New Woman” fought forher right that period. In 1920 the 19th Amendment gave them the right to vote.
“Jazz music”became popular and “Art Deco” was thenew style launched in design and architecture. “The Car industry” led by the pioneer Henry Ford started producing new and better modelswith more affordable prices. Larger roads started connecting the major cities. “The Aviation industry” was also evolved during the Roaring Twenties. The commercialization ofthe Aviation gave the opportunity to the people to travel to remote citiesfaster, go over the Atlantic and reach the Europe. “Science and Technology” evolved rapidly. Many of thehousehold items we enjoy today like refrigerators, radio, electric irons,toasters, air-conditioners, vacuum cleaners, television developed into viable commercial products in the 1920’s.
At this period, “The cultural civil war” took place, where manyAfrican-Americans came from the southern countryside to the cities andespecially to the northern ones. The black culture invaded the lives of theordinary “white population”. A number of vicious crimes took place in manydifferent places of the US against the African-Americans. Likewise, an anticommunistmovement known as the “Red Scare” encouraged the hysteria against people comingfrom the Eastern European and Asian countries Twenties. “Sports” gained unmatchedpublicity and promotion included baseball, swimming, football, boxing, golf,and tennis. The publicity of sporting giants was increased by newspapers,radio, magazines, and movies. “The Lawless Decade – Organized crime” Although, gangs existedin the American society by the end of the 19th Century, the scaleand the organization of crime made the difference.
Some of the factors whichresulted to the development of organized crime are:· Urbanization. Too many people wereconcentrated in small areas, which resulted to the anonymity of big cities andfreedom of moral constrains.· Immigration.
Many people withdifferent cultures were living together. Poverty and discriminations helpillegal economy to grow.· Communication. New technologies madetransportation and communication mush easier.
As a result, crime expanded.· Prohibition.In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the US constitution madeillegal “the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquor”.Drinking is addictive and it was popular.
As a result, the enforcement of thatlaw was very problematic and the perfect setting for organised crime wasestablished. Illegal alcohol was imported from Canada and the Caribbean, or home-brewedspirit was made. In 1920s illegal alcohol could be found in every street.Bootlegging was well established and speakeasies were becoming more popular.The origin of theAmerican gangs of the 1920s is dated back to the eighteenth century with the appearanceof mafia at first and the abrupt rise of the Black Hand in the late nineteenthcentury second.
The very seeds of Mafia began to appear in western Sicily wherepeople joined gangs to protect their properties because the government failedto provide them the security they wanted. By the beginning of the 19th centuryand due to the declined political and economic situation in Italy a massive entryof Italian immigrants accompanied with criminal elements headed to the UnitedStates picturing it as the land of opportunities.The American branch ofthe Italian Mafia was known as “La Cosa Nostra”.
Gangs were very well organized.They were expanded citywide or even in larger regions. They used organizationtechniques used by legitimate businesses. Of course, they used different, moreviolent techniques, for overdue costumers and rivals. They had to protectthemselves from other gangs and from law enforcement. Violent attacks betweengangs was a common phenomenon. The level of violence was raised.
Theirpreferable gun was the Thompson submachine, called “Tommy Gun”.They also used knives and bombs. They also adapted a hand grenade (WW1), whichwas known as the pineapple. Anyone how disagreed with the mobster “was takenfor a ride”, and of course he never came back.The gangsters were using many commonstandards, both in their appearance and activities. One of them was their dressing code. Thepattern of a man’s suit has been basically unchanged since the late 1920s.Gangsters, living a life of women, booze, crime and cars had the money to buythe finest fabrics and hire the best tailors.
The basic pattern of the gangstersuit was black, navy blue, or white. The typical gangster costume hadpinstripes. Brooks Brothers wasproducing high-quality suits in New York City since 1818. The fabric of theshirt, ideally, was complementing the gangster suit in colour.
The tie wasmatching to the gangster’s suit and should “pop”. They were used tocoloured silk ties, with enough heft to create a heavy “knot.” Thesuit was matching with high-quality shoes with “closed-laces”. Handkerchiefs, Belts or Suspenders were a mustto the total outfit.
Handkerchief was always in the jacket pocket. It was thesign of a true gentleman. They wore one every time they were wearing a jacket,regardless of whether they’re wearing a tie. Belt was simply faded into thebackground or they were using suspenders over a dark shirt.At first, organizedcrime focus was mainly on gambling and prostitution, the best example for thatis Big Jim Colosimo; an Italian rich gangster who collected his wealth frombrothels and gambling profits, but after the announcement of the Volstead Actand the prohibition of liquor, the organized crime turned its attention to thebootlegging activities. The 1920s witnessed a tremendous growth of Organizedcrime.
Criminal minds such as Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, createdorganized crime in America. They shaped its core to a new extent. Criminalgroups were highly organized and in some cases, they seemed untraceable forpolitical institutions, in the same time organized crime leaders sought thehelp of politicians when they needed it, the gangs knew well how to control thebootlegging activities in their speakeasies which were spread all over NewYork, Chicago and Los Angeles, and with the help of politicians their illegaldealings were guaranteed. It was common for gangsters to fill political positionsor even be chosen to a governmental position.All these illegalactivities gave amazing profit. Labor racketing became a common practice tocontrol unions. This way, gangsters’ involvement could be considered as legitimateworkers and had an income.
Sometimes that was a win-win situation, becausebusinessmen could control the competition. Anyone who tried to differentiatewas executed by the gangsters.Of all United States’ twenty crime families, New York only contained five,which took the lead of organized crime making it the capital of delinquency anddirty activities in the United States.
On the other hand, other cities couldbarely contain one family. Thus, the Big Apple became the headquarters fromwhich the other cities’ crime families were ordered. Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese were the infamous fivefamilies of New York that mustered their strength over the years to become thekings and queens of the underworld, therefore, it resulted into an inevitabledomination over other Mafia organizations, diminishing their power, some evento nothingness. For the Cosa Nostra New York was a crown jewel, it helped furnishing thegangs businesses and financial affairs via the sale of different products. Theydiverted their illegal benefits in hideous secretive ways such as in times offilling up gasoline. They took over the huge commerce in the country’s biggestport. Their benefits of construction estimated about a billion-dollar, gettingmoney from every possible domain they could reach and from every man they couldblackmail. The five crime families showed no mercy towards those who tried tobar the way of their despicable operations.
New York alone could not containthe five crime families’ germs; the Sicilian mafia’s ideas and traditions soonwere transferred into other cities spreading this germ at an unprecedentedscale. La Cosa Nostra’s greed for narcotics dollars accelerated crime rates,law-enforcement corruption, and the erosion of inner-city neighbourhoods in NewYork and throughout the United States; it also supported the five crimefamilies within the Big Apple. The Sicilian mafia is considered to be the mostdangerous and the most powerful organization in the United States of America,with its 2,500 members it could manage to run its activities as diverse as;drugs dealings, counterfeiting, political corruption, frauds, and otherracketeering crimes. The Sicilian mafia crimes swept over everyone who stood onits way even high-ranking officials including; generals, judges, mayors andparliament members could not survive its threats.
The Sicilian mafia paved theway to other Italian gangs essentially the Outfit. As for Italians, they were treated as foreigners and weredisenfranchised at first, but when the government announced the prohibition ofliquor they seized the moment and started extending their power over Chicago.Italian gangs used to live on the profits of gambling and prostitution it wasrare to have any trouble, but with the bootlegging in the field several thingschanged. Assassins were hired to kill famous gangsters, gangs planned ambushesfor each other and murders were just familiar daily events.
Italians formed theOutfit gang. The Outfit earned their bad reputation under Giacomo Big JimColisimo leadership in the 1920s, but they were feared more under the rein ofJohnny Torrio and his partner Al Capone. “Many Chicago policemen workedillegally and in close harmony with criminals and politicians”. Policemen were suborned and paid for, and forthose who dared to apply justice they ended up facing inevitable death. TheOutfit gang was only one example of New York’s notorious gangs whichlater on took Chicago as its main area of illegal activities.A notorious example was Al Capone, the Chicago gangster.
He was ruthlessand considered responsible formany violence actions, mostly against other gangsters e.g. the St. Valentine’sDay Massacre in 1929, where seven rivals were assassin. His saying “Asmile can get you far, but a smile with a gun can get you further” shows how cruel he was.
However, theonly reason Capone was arrested, in 1931, was for taxation charges. Mob bosses were verypowerful and had influence not only over gangs but also over politicians andlaw enforcement officials. For example, Arnold Rothstein was financing othercriminals, he was resolving conflicts between gangsters and problems betweengangsters and the police or politicians. His business was specialized in illegal gambling.The “Great Gatsby” was inspired by him.
Some gangsters consider themselves as Robin Hoods. They used charity toachieve acceptance. The image of the gangsters (popular to women, easy withmoney, well dressed) was attractive to young men, and made recruitment easy.They liked expensive cars, which they often customised armour or false floors.The only way a crime organisation could succeed, was to prevent the lawenforcement.
Bribery was a common way to achieve that. Free entertainment wasalso offered to politician and the police. Corruption granted immunity from thelaw. Gangsters were even informed about police raids on their operations.On the other hands, in the early twenties, the Federal Bureau was not effectiveand local police forces could not do much, since they were lacking of moderntools and training. The Bureau needed an excellent housecleaning. Edgar Hoover was the personwho did that. He took over in 1924, when he started organising an effectiveforce.
He organized finger prints files, which became vital for law enforcement,worldwide. In 1929, they started to keep criminal records by classifyingcrimes. They also try to take advantage of new scientific methods, and began toorganise scientific crime labs. Through the years they managed to get modernizeand more effective.Eliot Ness was a well-known G-Man (American Prohibition government agent)in Chicago. He needed to fight police corruption. For that, in 1930, he formed asquad of eleven agents, “The Untouchables”.
Their investigations ledto the conviction of many gangsters e.g. Al Capone. Works CitiedAll sites wherevisited on December 24th and 25th, 2017 several times.(1) ProhibitionGangstershttp://www.american-historama.
org/1913-1928-ww1-prohibition-era/prohibition-gangsters.htm(2) EliotNess and the Untouchableshttp://www.american-historama.org/1929-1945-depression-ww2-era/eliot-ness-facts.
htm(3) AlCapone quotes.http://www.azquotes.com/author/2435-Al_Capone(4) Ciment,James. The encyclopaedia of the Jazz age.https://books.
google.com.cy/books?id=S2nxBwAAQBAJ=PA151=PA151=jazz+age+gangs=bl=hDp1UKGm5A=M_cDGFQqishloAvf2G8qRs2ryTo=en=X=0ahUKEwjhlbHQ8aLYAhWjJMAKHYUNApUQ6AEIWjAL#v=onepage=jazz%20age%20gangs=false(5) TheFBI and the American gangster, 1924-1938https://www.fbi.gov/history/brief-history/the-fbi-and-the-american-gangster(6) TheJazz Age: Redefining the Nations 1919-1929https://www.
oercommons.org/courseware/unit/8512(7) Pottermore’sguide to the twenties: crime and punishmenthttps://www.pottermore.com/features/pottermore-guide-to-the-twenties-crime-and-punishment(8) Organisedcrime.
How it was change by prohibition.http://www.umich.edu/~eng217/student_projects/nkazmers/organizedcrime2.html