Prohibition Led To The Rapid Growth Of Organized Crime

Prohibition Led to the Rapid Growth of Organized Crime

Prohibition was a period in which the sale, manufacture, or transport of alcoholic beverages became illegal. It started January 16, 1919 and continued to December 5, 1933. Although it was designed to stop drinking completely, it did not even come close. It simply created a large number of bootleggers who were able to supply the public with illegal alcohol. Many of these bootleggers became very rich and influential through selling alcohol and also through other methods. They pioneered the practices of organized crime that are still used today. Thus, Prohibition led to the rapid growth of organized crime.
The introduction of prohibition in 1919 created numerous opinions and issues in American society. Prohibition had been a long standing issue in America, with temperance organizations promoting it since the late eighteenth century. The movement grew tremendously during the nineteenth century. The Independent Order of Good Templars, one of the major temperance societies, increased it\'s membership by 350,000 between 1859 and 1869 (Behr 31). Other societies followed a similar trend, and millions of Americans belonged to temperance societies by the end of the nineteenth century. When the United States entered World War I in 1914, there was a shortage of grain due to the large demands to feed the soldiers. Since grain is one of the major components in alcohol, the temperance movement now had the war to fuel their fight. "The need to conserve grain, the importance of maintaining some semblance of discipline and devotion .... to demonstrate the nation\'s sober determination to protect its interests." (Repeal .. 1933) Thus, the war played a large part in the introduction of Prohibition. During the next five years many states enacted their own prohibition laws, and finally, at midnight on December 16, 1919, Amendment 18 went into effect. It states that, "...the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors ... for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." (Constitution)
The public reaction to the introduction of Prohibition was largely mixed. The temperance organizations rejoiced at their victory. Over a century of work had finally paid off for them. The rest of the country, however, was less than pleased. Many saw it as a violation of their freedom, and others simply wanted to keep drinking. It did not take long for people to begin their protest. Less than one hour after prohibition took effect six gunmen hijacked a train in Chicago and stole over $100,000 worth of whiskey that was marked for medicinal use (Gingold 28). In New York, although there were no violent protests recorded that night, people all over the city mourned the loss of alcohol at their favorite saloon or restaurant, and drank a final toast at midnight (John ... Toll of 12).
The huge public demand for alcohol led to a soaring business for bootleggers. When prohibition began, people immediately wanted a way to drink. Hence, the extremely profitable bootlegging business was born. Before Prohibition gangs existed, but had little influence. Now, they had gained tremendous power almost overnight. Bootlegging was easy - New York City gangs paid hundreds of poor immigrants to maintain stills in their apartments. Common citizens, once law abiding, now became criminals by making their own alcohol. However, this posed risks for those who made their own. "The rich managed to continue drinking good liquor while less-affluent Americans often consumed homemade alcoholic beverages, which were sometimes made with poisonous wood alcohol." (Eighteenth ... Prohibition) Thus, many died due to alcohol poisoning. There was very little enforcement to the law, since the government employed few prohibition agents, most of whom could be bribed by the bootleggers. Those in favor of prohibition "became increasingly dismayed with the efforts of the government to enforce the law." (Repeal ... 1933) "In 1920, the government had fewer than 1,600 low-paid, ill-trained Prohibition agents for the entire country." (Gingold 37) Speakeasies, which got their name because a password had to be spoken through the door to get in, popped up all over the country. "The number of speakeasies in New York was somewhere in the hundreds or even thousands. It was easy enough for police to close and padlock individual speakeasies, but there were so many it was impossible to keep them shut