Bootlegging

Dumping wine, Chicago, Illinois, 1921

Dumping wine, Chicago, Illinois, 1921

Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

Intended to benefit the common good, Prohibition banned the sale and use of most alcohol from 1920 to 1933. But it did not stop Americans from drinking. Continuing and widespread public desire for alcohol had the unexpected consequence of expanding violent, organized crime. Illegal sources of production and distribution emerged quickly, and mob bosses controlled competition with guns. Crime became big business.

Prescription for medicinal alcohol, 1929

While the sale of alcohol was banned during Prohibition, there were some loopholes. Many people got doctors’ prescriptions for medicinal whiskey.

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Medicinal whiskey, 1920s

Cocktail shaker and cups, 1924

Prohibition may have shut down the saloons, but many people continued to enjoy drinking at home. This cocktail set was used during Prohibition by the Readers of West Hatton, Maryland.

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Criminal competition for control of the illegal alcohol market was intense and violent. One of the most notorious mobsters, Al Capone, ruled Chicago with an iron fist. His charitable donations made Capone popular with many people. After the brutal St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of rivals in 1929, his popularity tumbled.

Al Capone mug shot, 1934

Al Capone mug shot, 1934

Courtesy of National Archives

Thompson submachine gun, 1920s

The New York Times, February 24, 1929

The New York Times, February 24, 1929

Birger Gang, about 1924

Birger Gang, about 1924

The Birger Gang protected their southern Illinois bootlegging territory from competitors and the authorities with a large arsenal of weapons.

Courtesy of Chicago History Museum