Gangsters in 1920's America

What effect did 'Gangsterism' have on the USA in the 1920'

This assessment is an historical enquiry into gangsters in 1920s America and one of the most notorious gangster-related incidents of the era; the St Valentine's Day Massacre.

What do I need to know to complete this assignment?

The sources:

Source A:

F. L Allen 'Only Yesterday', (1931)

He (Al Capone) had discovered that there was big money in the newly outlawed liquor business.  He was fired with the hope of getting control of the distribution of booze to the whole city of Chicago. . . Within three years it was said that . . . (he) had seven hundred men at his disposal, many of them skilled in the use of the sawed-off shotgun and the Thompson sub-machine gun.  As the profits from beer and 'alky-cooling' (illegal distilling) rolled in, young Capone acquired more talent - particularly talent in the management of politics and politicians. By the middle of the decade he had gained complete control of the suburb of Cicero, and had installed his own mayor in office. . .there were over five hundred gang murders in all.  Few of the murderers were caught; careful planning, money, influence, the intimidation of witnesses and the refusal of any gangster to testify against any other, no matter how treacherous the murder, met that danger.

 

Source B

In 1929, the most powerful Chicago gang leader was Al Capone.  Since 1920 it had been against the law in America to sell alcohol.  This was known as 'prohibition'.  Gangsters like Capone made a fortune from 'bootlegging' - making and smuggling booze for the 'speakeasies' (the illegal bars where you could still get a drink).  Capone's speakeasies were places of luxury, with a bar and dance hall, gambling tables at the back and rooms upstairs for prostitutes.

Capone was king of Chicago .  He bribed Chicago's politicians and judges.  Corrupt policemen guarded his gambling joints.  He controlled most of the other gangsters in Chicago .

Source C : Picture of Al Capone in the 1920s

gangs1

 

Source D:

A newspaper report tells us how they got people to vote for their candidates:

'Automobiles filled with gunmen paraded the streets slugging and kidnapping election workers.  Polling places were raided by armed thugs and ballots taken at the point of a gun from the hands of voters waiting to drop them in the box.  Voters and workers were kidnapped, taken to Chicago and held prisoners until the polls closed.'

 

Source E:

Doc Graham, convicted criminal.  Chicago (interview).

My family were extremely poor.  My father was an unsuccessful gambler.   And my mother was a missionary.  Not much money connected with either profession . . . The era of the times led into criminality . . . When a policeman or a fireman was not being paid, how in the name of God could you expect him to enforce . . .law and order, when you see the beer barons changing hundred dollar bills . . . and the guy digging the sewers couldn't pay his bills'

Source F: Cornelia Barnes, The Liberator (1931) - a cartoon showing two gangsters discussing their businesses

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Source G:  Police photograph of the St. Valentines Day Massacre, 1929

 

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Source H

On St Valentine's Day, 1929, seven men sat talking in the SMC Carriage company garage in North Clark Street , Chicago .  Five of them were gangsters.  They were members of George 'Bugs' Moran's gangland outfit.  With them were Reinhardt Schwimmer, a wealthy optician who liked to be seen with gangsters, and John May, the garage mechanic.  Two men, dressed as policemen, went into the garage. They lined the seven men up against the wall and took their guns. 

Suddenly two hit men - 'torpedoes', as they were called - burst into the garage.  One carried a sawn-off shotgun; the other had a machine gun.  They blazed away at the helpless men.  Twenty seconds later it was all over.  One man's head had been blown open.  Another man was slumped over a chair; shreds of skin dangled between his splintered bones and shattered teeth.  Four corpses, riddled with machine gun bullets, stared lifelessly at the ceiling.  "My God", gasped Sergeant Fred O'Neill, the first real policeman to arrive on the scene, "what a massacre."

 

What do I do?

This is the assessment assignment for this study unit so it is important to make it as convincing as possible.

 How do I get this work done?

You have already found out about changes to life in America in the 1920s, including Prohibition. You will now practise using sources above as evidence as part of your preparation for the assignment. Your teacher may want you to use this EVALUATION GRID to do this.

        The assignment will be word-processed. You will then EITHER print off your work and hand it in OR e-mail it to your teacher.

  1. 1.  You will complete the assignment to a deadline set by your teacher.
  2. 2.  Your teacher will comment on this work, giving you advice on how to improve it, so that you raise the level you have reached.
  3. 3.  You will amend the assignment to a deadline set by your teacher.
  4. 4.  Your teacher will comment on this work and give you a level for this work.  

ENQUIRY QUESTION:

What effect did gangsterism have on the USA in the 1920s?

Use all the sources above, information from the web links below and any other research you have done, to write a magazine article for TIME MAGAZINE (a popular magazine commenting on important aspects of life). The article should describe the outbreak of gangsterism in 1920s America . It should include:

Explain who the gangsters are and what they do (organised crime -   what  did  this involve?)

  • Explain where they are based.
  • Explain how they go about their business.
  • Suggest how they get away with their crimes.

Include in your article an explanation why you can trust ONE of the sources you have used as evidence for the power of the gangsters in America in the 1920s to show that you know what you are talking about. (Your teacher will have shown you how you can work out how trustworthy sources are as evidence using the TANPLAK system.)

  • Reach a CONCLUSION which answers the enquiry question - What effect did gangsterism have on the USA in the 1920s? This must be a detailed explanation based on the evidence you have already discussed in the article.

How do I do this assignment well?

1.  You can use either of these PLANNING GRIDS to help you lay out your answer and to make sure that you cover all the necessary points.

2.   Highest marks are available to those articles which make use of extra research and which are critical of the sources used.

Web links for research:

www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAcapone.htm

www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAgangster.htm

www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmassacre.htm

www.alcaponemuseum.com/gangsters.html

www.historylearningsite.col.uk/america_1928.htm

www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/mob_bosses/capone/index_1.html?sect=15

www.prairieghosts.com/valentine.html

 

The level you are given at the end will be based on the following level descriptions. Use these as a checklist while you are writing the assignment to see which level you are working towards

Level 8

The answer explains who gangsters, what they do, where they are based and how they go about their business. It also discusses how they get away with their crimes. The sources and extra research have been referred to throughout in detail to make the answer more convincing.

An explanation of why one of the sources can be trusted is included which makes highly effective use of TANPLAK cross-referencing the source in detail with other reliable evidence from the other sources and the students background knowledge of the USA in the 1920s.

A CONCLUSION is reached which answers the enquiry question - What effect did 'gangsterism' have on the USA in the 1920s? This is a detailed explanation based on the evidence, which clearly shows links being made between gangsterism and the wider changes in American life in the 1920s.

 

Level 7

The answer explains who gangsters, what they do, where they are based and how they go about their business. It also discusses how they get away with their crimes. The sources and extra research have been referred to throughout in detail to make the answer more convincing.

An explanation of why one of the sources can be trusted which makes thorough use of TANPLAK is included in the answer.

A CONCLUSION is reached which answers the enquiry question - What effect did 'gangsterism' have on the USA in the 1920s? This is a detailed explanation based on the evidence.

 

Level 6

The answer explains who gangsters, what they do, where they are based and how they go about their business. It also discusses how they get away with their crimes.

An explanation of why one of the sources can be trusted which effectively uses TANPLAK is included in the answer.

A CONCLUSION is reached which answers the enquiry question - What effect did 'gangsterism' have on the USA in the 1920s? This is a detailed explanation based on the evidence.