1920's Chicago and The St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Prohibition in the United States began in 1920 and ended in 1933. This legislation was enacted in an attempt to control the negative effects of alcohol on people's behavior. Proponents of Prohibition expected that people would become healthier and crime rates would decrease. Instead, Prohibition led to the rise of organized crime in America, which claimed many lives, most famously the seven killed in the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre. This served as a wake-up call to the American people about the underworld of organized crime that had been infiltrating the country.
The 18th Amendment went into effect on Jan. 17, 1920, fueled by the temperance movement that gained traction throughout the 19th century. Many sectors of the population believed that alcohol consumption was detrimental to society, but with the banning of alcohol sales and importing of alcohol in America, bootlegging and illegal sales of alcohol ran rampant. Organized gangs began smuggling, distilling, and selling alcohol. Among the most well-known gangsters of this era was Al Capone.
Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899. He was active in a gang in New York City until he was invited to Chicago to join a gang simply called "the Outfit." Capone worked his way up in the organization until he took over control in 1925. Capone focused on building a reputation in the Chicago community as a successful businessman, but he was really actively involved in bootlegging and other types of crime.
One of Capone's biggest rivals on the streets of Chicago was George "Bugs" Moran, leader of the North Side Gang. The rival gangs were in competition as they ran their bootlegging operations, among other sordid activities. Turf wars were rampant as the organizations distilled, stole, and transported alcohol through the city. Tensions came to a head when Moran started moving in on Capone's territory, and the culmination of this rivalry came with an event that would come to be known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
On the morning of Feb. 14, 1929, a group of men posing as police officers "raided" a garage where seven of Moran's associates had gathered, taking their weapons and lining them up against a brick wall. Then, they opened fire with submachine guns, slaying all seven.
Capone was not in Chicago at the time of the massacre, but he was strongly suspected of having ordered it. However, nobody was ever jailed for this heinous crime.
Several months later, Capone was arrested for contempt of court after feigning illness to avoid testifying before a grand jury. He received a six-month sentence for this crime. Before this sentence began, he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, which led to another conviction. But it was eventually tax evasion that was Capone's downfall. He received an 11-year sentence for this crime, which he served in several institutions, including Alcatraz. By the time he was released from prison, he had an advanced case of syphilis, which took his life in 1947.
Meanwhile, Moran moved away from Chicago after the end of Prohibition. He was arrested for robbing a bank in 1946, and he died of lung cancer in 1957 while serving a sentence in federal prison.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre drew nationwide attention to the rampant violence and corruption connected with organized crime. Throughout the 1920s, law enforcement seemed incapable of being able to manage the activities of the mobsters, nor were they able to do much to stop those who subverted the alcohol laws, either by exploiting loopholes in the legal statutes, creating their own distilling operations, or buying alcohol on the black market. In the end, the 21st Amendment was ratified on Dec. 5, 1933, repealing the 18th Amendment. Instead of leading to better health and prosperity for the nation, Prohibition led to more crime and more money spent on failed enforcement of these laws.
Learn more about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, Prohibition, Capone, and Moran by visiting these websites:
- St. Valentine's Day Massacre
- Not So Sweet: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre
- Al Capone
- Al Capone: The Story Behind His Rise and Fall
- Five Things You Didn't Know About 1920s Gangsters in Chicago
- Al Capone Biography
- Prohibition's Unintended Consequences
- The FBI and the American Gangster
- Autopsy Reports Found From 1929 Valentine's Day Massacre
- Old Files Offer Fresh Look at St. Valentine's Day Massacre
- Murder on St. Valentine's Day
- Gangster Corruption
- Bootlegging History
- American History: Bootlegging
- Organized Crime: How it Was Changed by Prohibition