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SETTING THE STAGE

SETTING THE STAGE

Passage of the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture, importation and sale of alcohol created a lucrative black market for booze. The Mob filled the void, turning hoodlums into millionaires. Competition was fierce, and nowhere more so than in Chicago, where Al Capone and Bugs Moran were bitter rivals.

When the United States passed the 18th amendment in 1920 banning the manufacture, importation and sale of alcoholic beverages, it immediately created a lucrative black market to serve the millions of Americans who had no intention of giving up booze.

Organized crime groups filled the void. They either smuggled in alcohol from Canada and other countries or they made it themselves. They typically sold these illicit spirits in underground bars and nightclubs, or speakeasies, which flourished in cities across the country.

Al Capone Smoking a Cigar
Al Capone was the leading crime boss in Chicago in the 1920s, and he was known to use extreme violence to eliminate rivals. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Bootlegging, as this new industry became known, was a highly profitable enterprise that turned street hoodlums into millionaires. With so much money at stake, competition was fierce, and nowhere more so than in Chicago, the capital of bootlegging during the 1920s. Turf wars erupted, and rivals frequently hijacked each other’s alcohol shipments. Dueling gangs equipped with Thompson submachine guns often resorted to violence to solve conflicts.

Al Capone’s South Side Gang emerged as a dominant force in Chicago bootlegging, but Capone’s desire to control the whole city — really the entire upper Midwest — was constantly being challenged. A persistent thorn in Capone’s side was George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang.

George “Bugs” Moran challenged Al Capone’s criminal supremacy in Chicago. Courtesy of John Binder Collection
George “Bugs” Moran challenged Al Capone’s criminal supremacy in Chicago. Courtesy of John Binder Collection

The Massacre

The crime that became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred on the morning of February 14, 1929, inside a garage on the north side of Chicago...

The Massacre - The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Feb. 14th, 1929.
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