What would Chicago be like without alcohol? Whole neighborhoods wouldn’t exist! Well, from January 17, 1920 to December 4, 1933, alcohol was illegal in the United States. This time period was called prohibition, and it did not go well. Famous gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran wreaked havoc on the city, making Chicago the place it is today. Since tomorrow is the 79th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment, prohibition, I figured it was perfect for this week’s “Did You Know, Chicago?” feature.
Prohibition was a result of a decades-long temperance movement in reaction to the rise in alcoholism. While the act did have support, not enough of the general public was behind the ban. Thus, demand for alcohol did not actually decrease.
Illegal drinking establishments, called speakeasies, began popping up across the country. While the most famous speakeasies were located in big cities, there were plenty in rural America. These places got alcohol either from making it in the backroom – bathtub gin became a common method – or by purchasing it from very dangerous characters.
While alcohol was banned in the U.S., it was not illegal in Canada. Chicago gangsters took advantage of this, running liquor from Canada and selling it across the country. This became known as bootlegging, and it was a very lucrative business.
Much like gangs today, Chicago was divided into territories: the south side was owned by Al Capone and the north side was owned by Bugs Moran. Each had their own gang and places of business. While Bugs Moran was a very scary man, he was nothing compared to the notorious Al Capone.
The 2200 block of south Wabash became known as the Levee District. There were speakeasies, whore houses, casinos, anything you could ever want, but the real gem was the Four Deuces. A bar and a brothel, this served as the headquarters for Johnny Torrio’s operation. A young man from New York City got his Chicago start at the Four Deuces: Al Capone. After an attempt on Torrio’s life scared him into retirement, the outfit was turned over to Capone.
Capone and Moran engaged in bloody battles throughout the 1920’s, horrifying the nation. However, it wasn’t until February 14, 1927 that major action was taken. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place when seven men were lined up inside of the SMC Cartage Company garage at 2122 North Clark Street and executed. While nothing was ever blamed on Capone, it’s commonly believed that this was a set-up by his gang to get back at the North Side Gang. Capone was in Florida at the time.
The U.S. Justice Department created a special unit to put an end to Capone. This group, called The Untouchables, were the ones who eventually brought Capone down for tax evasion. (You should see the movie, it’s very good.) Capone was sentenced to federal prison in 1931, and on December 5, 1933, prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment.
Filed under: Did You Know, Chicago?
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