The Significance of Prohibition on the Development of the American Mafia

Essay by topdogg19High School, 12th gradeA+, February 2004

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In the years preceding 1920, America was in a state of disarray. The industrial revolution had finally hit the New World, and in a pursuit of economic and social prosperity, American citizens all over the nation left their small towns for the busy metropolitan life. At the same time, a massive influx of immigrants from Europe arrived in America (Bailey 749). The combination of these two factors contributed to an increase in local crime; dire working conditions and low pay forced the poor and hungry to utilize law-breaking as a way out. However, it wasn't until the slap of the 18th amendment, known as the Volstead Act, which prohibited the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages" ("Constitution"), that America was truly impacted. During this era known as Prohibition, many groups of people began to further evade the law and find other means of attaining alcohol and illegally selling and manufacturing it; consequently, with the advent of the 1920's, Prohibition triggered the immense development of organized crime.

More specifically, the lavish profits of alcohol bootlegging caused by Prohibition opened a doorway to many opportunities for Italian-American criminals, such as extended business ventures in gambling and narcotics. Ultimately, the Volstead Act laid the foundations for the American Mafia by instigating an increase in competition, corruption, and consolidation, and transformed La Cosa Nostra, as it later became known, into the business and money-making empire that it flourished into during the next few decades.

In truth, La Cosa Nostra was not created solely through Prohibition. Prior to 1920, the Mafioso ideals were already firmly embedded into the Italian American mentality. During the inundation of Italian immigrants into America at the turn of the century, many of these Italians, mostly Sicilian, spoke little to no English. As a result, the Italian immigrants...