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Tag: Prohibition

Prohibition and the Rise of the American Gangster

Mug shots of the conspirators with vital statistics, 04/24/1929 (Department of Justice. Bureau of Prohibition. Seattle Office. ARC#298444)

As Prohibition commenced in 1920, progressives and temperance activists envisioned an age of moral and social reform. But over the next decade, the “noble experiment” produced crime, violence, and a flourishing illegal liquor trade.

The roots of Prohibition date back to the mid-19th century, when the American Temperance Society and the Women’s Christian Temperance League initiated the “dry” movement. In 1917, Congress passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to implement nationwide Prohibition.

After the 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, Congress followed with the National Prohibition Act. Commonly referred to as the Volstead Act, the legislation outlawed the production, distribution, and transportation of alcohol. Prohibition officially went into effect on January 16, 1920.

But while reformers rejoiced, famous gangsters such as Al Capone capitalized and profited from the illegal alcohol market.

From Los Angeles to Chicago to  New York, organized crime syndicates supplied speakeasies and underground establishments with large quantities of beer and liquor. These complex bootlegging operations used rivers and waterways to smuggle alcohol across state lines. Eventually, other criminal enterprises expanded and diversified from the bootlegging profits.

As organized crime syndicates grew throughout the Prohibition era, territorial disputes often transformed America’s cities into violent battlegrounds. Homicides, burglaries, and assaults consequently increased significantly between 1920 and 1933.… [ Read all ]

The Taxman Cometh: U.S. v. Alphonse Capone

Al Capone's Guilty Verdict, 10/17/1931 - 10/17/1931 (Record Group 21, National Archives at Chicago; ARC 628966)

Al Capone—the quintessential American gangster—headed the nation’s most notorious organized crime syndicate for more than a decade during Prohibition.

Through smuggling, bootlegging, and a variety of other criminal operations, his “Chicago Outfit” was able to dominate America’s illegal liquor trade throughout the 1920s. But did you know that Al Capone was never convicted of violating the National Prohibition Act?

In 1931, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion for 1925-1929. Despite his immense wealth, he had never paid taxes or purchased any assets in his own name.

So when the Internal Revenue Service’s Special Intelligence Unit uncovered cash receipts from a gambling operation linked to Capone, the evidence served as the foundation for a Federal case. The prosecution charged that he owed over $200,000 in unpaid taxes stemming from gambling profits.

Unable to strike a plea bargain with prosecutors, Capone attempted to bribe jury members. The presiding judge, however, responded by quietly changing the jury panel prior to the trial.

On October 18, 1931, Capone was found guilty on five counts of tax evasion. A month later he was sentenced to 11 years in Federal prison, fined $50,000, charged $7,692 for court costs, and ordered to pay his back taxes plus interest.

Following seven and a half years in … [ Read all ]

Thursday’s Photo Caption Contest

After today, let’s start tapping the kegs from the top.

After today, let’s start tapping the kegs from the top.

It’s time to “spill” the beans on who won last week’s contest. While we had more fun than a “barrel” of monkeys reading through your comments, settling on a winner was a “sobering” task. We loved Gabby’s “There was some confusion at the onset of the invention of the ‘kegger’ to what exactly the purpose of this activity was. Many years later, it would still receive mixed reviews from the neighbors,” and any reference to a 200-foot-tall space alien master (Bob S.) we enjoy, but ultimately it was Rebecca who took the cake (and 30% eStore discount!). Her comment is below the image at left.

As most of you guessed, this photo was from Prohibition, 1931 to be precise. The original caption reads “Los Angeles authorities emptying barrels of rum, 1931.” Two years later, in 1933, the 21st Amendment would end Prohibition, becoming the only amendment to repeal a previous one (so far).

While Prohibition may be over, our arsenal of strange is still plenty full here at the Archives. This week we’ve pulled out a particularly peculiar picture for pontification, so stretch out that funny bone and submit your comments! You never know who will be guest judging!

Insert your caption here

Insert your caption here

Here’s something to get you started:

“Originally made of ‘thirteen stripes alternating

[ Read all ]

Thursday’s Photo Caption Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen, what a contest! After long deliberation, the Archivist of the United States has settled on a winning caption from last week’s photo caption contest. Its author will win eternal fame, fortune, and a 30% discount from the Archives eStore. Congratulations to Marilyn R, who won with the following caption:

Project Runway: The War Effort

So just what were those gents doing with mattresses strapped around their waists? Great question. The original caption to the First World War–era photo, taken in April 1917 by the War Department, reads: “Recruits with their mattresses tied to them to serve as life preservers. Photo taken at Newport Naval Training Station, Rhode Island.” The local identifier is 165-WW-326B(1).

While mattress-clad recruits make a great photo op, there is plenty more of the strange and unusual in our still photo section just waiting for a good caption. So, on to this week’s photo. As a reminder, our expert panel of judges will announce the winner next week, and whoever gets the most giggles will earn 30% off at the Archives eStore, and the gratitude of a nation.

Insert your caption here!

Insert your caption here!

For starters:

“People were upset to discover what Bill meant when he said Prohibition would be a barrel of laughs.”

[ Read all ]