Scope of project
This project seeks to identify American gangsters during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s.
A gangster is a criminal who is a member of a gang; some gangs are considered to be part of organized crime. Gangsters are also called “mobsters,” a term is derived from "mob" and the suffix "-ster."
The terms "gangster" and "mobster" are mostly used in the United States to refer to members of criminal organizations associated with Prohibition or with an American offshoot of the Italian Mafia (such as the Chicago Outfit, the Philadelphia Mafia, or the Five Families). Gangsters have been depicted in American popular culture in films such as The Godfather, War, Hell Up in Harlem, Scarface, and Goodfellas, and in television shows (e.g.,The Sopranos).
As American society and culture developed, new immigrants were relocating to the United States. The first major gangs in 19th century New York City were the Irish gangs such as the Whyos and the Dead Rabbits, followed by the Italian Five Points Gang and later a Jewish gang known as the Monk Eastman Gang. There were also "nativist" anti-immigration gangs such as the Bowery Boys.
The stereotypical image and myth of the American gangster is closely associated with organized crime during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s. In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption. Many gangs sold alcohol illegally for tremendous profit, and used acute violence to stake turf and protect their interest. Often, police officers and politicians were paid off or extorted to ensure continued operation.
Pileggi, Nicholas. Wiseguy. (1986). Pocket Books.
- 1923-26 map of Chicago gangs by Fredric Thrasher: