Prohibition, in 3 unexpected consequences

From 1920 to 1933, the United States banned the trade in alcohol giving birth to the prohibition era. Al Capone, cocktails and speakeasies: myths abound. We explore them in a three-part article.


1/3 – Prohibitions & Gangsters

Prohibition will be eternally linked to the image of the mobster, cigar in his mouth and machine gun in his fist. Yet Chicago, the city of Al Capone, is probably more dangerous today than it was then. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that organized crime owes much of its prosperity to this very special period in American history. Before her, Capone and the other kings of the mafia were often just small hits. From 1920 onwards, the most intelligent knew how to transform themselves into transmission belts: they found illegal alcohol suppliers and protected transport. Once in town, they hid the merchandise and distributed it to speakeasers. Their violence was mainly directed against their competitors, especially since the trade was lucrative. And, little by little, precisely to get richer, they became producers and retailers themselves. The considerable sums thus obtained encouraged the development of very powerful underground organizations and a parallel economy that did not disappear with the end of prohibition. Profits from the alcohol sector were used to create other sources – drugs in particular.

But it was not only the Hollywood film mobster who took advantage of the sudden illegality of a very popular substance. Less romantic than the gangster, it was also necessary to rely on the corrupt police officer and civil servant, the doctor who forged certificates allowing the purchase of “medicinal” alcohol or the ordinary citizen. For the latter, the simple act of buying a bottle under the counter or ordering a whisky in a speakeasy could turn him into a criminal. And that is the worst part of prohibition: by making a common act illegal, it pushed the average citizen to associate with the gangster and made the drinker a potential accomplice of organized crime. And how could you not feel a bit of sympathy for the bandit who, scarring his face and knife in his hand, was finally only providing you with what you could still buy, not long ago, at the grocery store next door?


François Monti


Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.

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