On Midnight, January 16, 1920 the Prohibition orthe Noble Experiment hit the United States. The aim of Prohibition was to reduce crime, poverty, death rates, improve the economy, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene generally in America. For the first few months Prohibition was working just as it was planned to, crime rates were down and drunken disorderly behavior were diminished, however by late 1920 it was unenforceable. The explosive growth of crime and the amount of alcohol consumption was overbearing. People were finding ways to smuggle alcohol in to the country. Certain people such as Al Capone dominated the black market with bootlegged alcohol . Before long gangster groups such as the Chicago Outfit had such power they started influencing politics, culminating in organized crime becoming an empire by the late 1920s. From the start Prohibition fuelled the very thing it sought to destroy.
During Prohibition, people needed to find ways to avoid being caught illegally manufacturing and importing alcohol. Beer had to be transported in large quantities, which became difficult so the price of beer went up and so Americans began to drink less of it. Although this was what Prohibition aimed to do, Americans began to drink hard liquor, which was more concentrated and easier to transport and less expensive. They used the alcohol that had previously been used for medicinal purposes, prescribed by doctors. This alcohol was technically legal. There were restrictions, such as only one pint allowed per person in a ten day period, but these rules were blatantly ignored. The sales of 95 percent pure alcohol increased 400 percent between 1923 and 1931. Because of this the Americans became drunker by drinking less which created more problems. Another downfall of prohibition was that the illegally made products had no standards.
As Prohibition continued social problems in the USA amplified. People also started smuggling in liquor from other countries, stole it from government warehouses or produced their own. Serious crimes such as homicide, assault and battery increased by nearly 13 percent and smaller crimes such as petty theft increased by 9 percent. In large cities homicide went from 5.6 (per 100,000 population) in the pre-prohibition period, to nearly 10 (per 100,000 population) during prohibition, nearly a 78 percent increase. Between 1920 and 1921 homicides and burglaries had already increased by 24 percent as a result of prohibition.
Because of the Prohibition liquor was no longer legally available, so the public turned to the gangsters who often and readily took on the bootlegging industry and sold people liquor for a very high price. Since bootlegging had such high profits more and more gangsters became involved. As a result of the money involved in the bootlegging industry, there was much rivalry between gangs. Incidentally, it was the large cities that were the main location for organized gangs. New York was thought to be one of the most gangster riddled cities in the United States but it was in fact Chicago that was the capital of racketeers including; Johnny Torrio; Bugs Moran; the Gennas and the OBanions.
The most infamous gangster of all time Al Scarface Capone , was operating out of Chicago and was said to have been making an income of $100 million a year. Al Capone had began crime at the early age of 14 when he left school and had part time jobs as well as acting in the Brooklyn Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors who then moved to Chicago as he was in danger from rival gangs. It was here in Chicago where he joined the Chicago Outfit and becoming the most well known gangster of the 20th century.
After the 1923 mayoral election, Chicago’s city government began to put pressure on the gangsters inside the city limits. Capones organization muscled its way into Cicero, Illinois by placing its headquarters just outside of city jurisdiction to create a safe zone for its operations, culminating in one of Capone’s greatest triumphs; the takeover of Cicero’s town government in 1924. The 1924 Cicero town elections became known as the most rigged and corrupt elections in the Chicagos history. With thugs threatening the voters at their poll stations, Capone’s candidate won by an enormous margin. Three weeks later the candidate announced that he would capture Capone and send him to jail, in relation, Capone met with the mayor and assassinated him, a powerful declaration of gangster power, and a key victory for the Chicago Outfits. The further displayed ineffectual prohibition laws which fuelled the very thing it sought to destroy.
The Chicago Outfit was rumored responsible for one of the most gruesome and remembered gangster shoot-outs of all time; Febuary 14th 1929; Valentines Day . Because of business arguments, Capone had his henchman, Jack Machine Gun McGurn plot the murder of the OBanions, led by Bugs Moran Al Capones previous boss. McGurn staged a delivery of alcohol to Moran at a warehouse and had his gang members impersonate police officers and pretend to raid the transaction. With a sweep of machine gun fire, McGurn killed all that were inside killing 7 people 6 of which were gangsters. Capone had a solid alibi, being in Miami at the time, and no convictions were ever made. This event is an example of how prohibition fueled gang warfare and increased the crime rate in America.
The concluding results from the prohibition are obvious; organized crime grew into a colossal empire with more control over welfare than the government did. Disrespect for the law spread with unstoppable speed with the assistance of the gangsters enforcing this feeling throughout the society, the consumption of the prohibited substance, alcohol use increased dramatically. It is obvious that this so-called noble experiment was not so noble but rather a miserable failure on all accounts. People constantly violated the law, drinking more and more alcohol. The social state of the community was slowly in decline from the time prohibition came in, no one went out for drinks and many parties were cancelled.
The aim of the prohibition to solve social problems was a complete failure. Not only was prohibition ineffective, it was also damaging to people and society, raising homicide and disorderly conduct levels through the roof. By 1926, it was apparent that prohibition was not working. Polls indicated the majority of Americans favored the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Repeal was not to come until 1933. Prohibition fuelled the very thing it sought to destroy over the 13 years that prohibition lasted in America, chaos, damage and destruction was the only outcome.
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James H. Timberlake, 1970, Prohibition and the Progressive Movement, 1900-1920, Macmillan Pub Co, London.
Lerner, Michael. 2007, Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, Harvard University Press, United States.
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