The 1920s was a tumultuous and prosperous decade for gangsters in the United States, primarily due to the Prohibition era, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. The 1920s, often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties” or the “Jazz Age,” was a remarkable and transformative decade in the United States and several other parts of the world.
Besides the rise of gangsters and prohibition, the 1920s was a time of change and new horizons, among this included:
- Economic Prosperity: The 1920s saw a period of unprecedented economic growth in the United States. It was a time of industrial expansion, increased consumerism, and stock market speculation. The country was recovering from the effects of World War I, and technological advancements, such as the widespread use of electricity and the automobile, played a significant role in the economic boom.
- Cultural Changes: The 1920s was a period of significant cultural shifts. It was characterized by a rejection of Victorian-era values and a more liberal attitude towards social norms. This era witnessed the emergence of the “Flapper” culture, marked by women who challenged traditional gender roles, embraced new fashions, and engaged in more adventurous social activities.
- Jazz and Music: Jazz music became a defining feature of the era. Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith rose to prominence. The era is often associated with the exuberant and innovative music of the time.
- Art and Literature: The 1920s saw a flourishing of art and literature. The “Lost Generation” of writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein, produced works that captured the disillusionment and sense of lost innocence that followed World War I.
- Technological Advancements: The 1920s witnessed significant advancements in technology, particularly in the field of transportation. The automobile became more affordable and accessible to the general population, leading to changes in urban planning and lifestyle. Radio broadcasting also became widespread, connecting people across great distances.
- Cinema and Hollywood: The 1920s marked the golden age of silent film, with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton becoming famous stars. The decade also saw the transition to “talkies” or movies with synchronized sound, with the release of “The Jazz Singer” in 1927.
- Social and Political Changes: The 1920s brought about significant social changes, including the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. There were also tensions between traditional values and modern ideas, which played out in debates over issues such as evolution and immigration.
- Stock Market Speculation: The 1920s saw a speculative bubble in the stock market, with many people investing heavily in stocks. This ultimately contributed to the stock market crash of 1929, leading to the Great Depression.
- End of the Decade: The era of prosperity and excess came to an abrupt end with the stock market crash in 1929, which led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. This economic downturn brought an end to the Roaring Twenties.
The 1920s left a lasting impact on American culture and history, as it was a decade of change and innovation in many aspects of society, despite the economic downturn that followed it.
Most Famous Gangsters of the 1920s
The 1920s in the United States was a period known for the rise of organized crime and infamous gangsters. Some of the most famous gangsters of the 1920s include:
- Al Capone: Perhaps the most well-known gangster of the 1920s, Al Capone, also known as “Scarface,” was a Chicago-based mob boss who controlled various illegal activities, primarily during the Prohibition era. He was involved in bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution. Capone’s criminal empire made him a multimillionaire, and he was infamous for his violent methods. He was eventually arrested and imprisoned for tax evasion.
- Johnny Torrio: Johnny Torrio was a prominent gangster who mentored Al Capone and played a crucial role in the Chicago Outfit, an Italian-American crime syndicate. Torrio helped build Capone’s criminal career and was a key figure in the organization’s rise.
- Lucky Luciano: Charles “Lucky” Luciano was a significant figure in the New York City Mafia. He helped modernize organized crime and establish the “Five Families” of New York. Luciano was instrumental in creating the National Crime Syndicate, which brought together various criminal organizations across the country.
- Meyer Lansky: Meyer Lansky was a close associate of Lucky Luciano and was considered one of the most financially astute mobsters. He was involved in illegal gambling, and his syndicate controlled casinos in places like Las Vegas and Cuba.
- Dutch Schultz: Dutch Schultz was a New York-based gangster involved in bootlegging, numbers rackets, and other criminal enterprises. He was known for his violent tendencies and was taken out by other mobsters in 1935.
- George “Bugs” Moran: Bugs Moran was a rival of Al Capone in Chicago during the Prohibition era. He was the target of the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, which was allegedly orchestrated by Capone.
- Pretty Boy Floyd: Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was a notorious bank robber and gangster during the Great Depression, a bit later in the 1930s. However, he gained notoriety in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was involved in a series of high-profile bank heists and became a folk hero of sorts to some during tough economic times.
- John Dillinger: John Dillinger was another famous bank robber who operated during the 1930s. He was known for his daring bank heists and escapes from law enforcement, but he began his criminal career in the late 1920s.
These gangsters and their criminal activities have been the subject of numerous books, movies, and television series, contributing to the enduring fascination with the “Roaring Twenties” and the underworld of organized crime during that era.