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During the 1920s, criminal gangs inside the United States were commonly referred to as “mobs.” The term mobster was used to describe an individual who was a member of a mob. Mobs were typically very clannish, and often only allowed admittance to members of their own cultural group. The earliest and most powerful mobs were probably the Irish and the Italian gangs concentrated inside major cities in the United States. They had their own members in law enforcement, banking and government.
Most historians agree that the enactment of Prohibition was probably the primary reason that mobs gained so much power. Prohibition was an amendment to the United States Constitution which made the sale, manufacture or consumption of alcohol inside the United States illegal. Prohibition was so hugely unpopular that people began to look for illegal ways to obtain alcohol, and organized criminal gangs began to channel their influence to provide a black market for illegal alcohol. The illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol came to be called “bootlegging." Prohibition later became the first and only amendment to the United States Constitution to be repealed.
Al Capone was a mobster who gained fame as one of the most important bootleggers. His Italian mob, which operated primary out of Chicago, was considered one of the most violent gangs in the country. As was often typical for a mobster, he came from a background of poverty, but became one of the richest men in the country. Al Capone died in 1949 of a stroke that may have been brought on by syphilis.
Another notorious mobster was “Lucky” Luciano, whose birth name was Charles Luciano. He operated primarily out of New York, and eventually collaborated with another famous mobster named Meyer Lensky. Together, the two of them probably accumulated more wealth than any mobsters in American history. Their power and influence may have extended though the 1950s. Luciano is believed to have played a role in bringing various mobs together, which not only cemented their power, but greatly reduced gang violence.
The lifespan of a mobster was often short, and they frequently had lifestyles that required them to have dual personalities. Many of them had families and presented themselves as a normal part of their community. Often, their neighbors and family members did not know exactly how they earned their living. Mob clans were very secretive societies and typically were lifelong commitments.
Most organized crime rings were involved in many other activities besides the sale of illegal alcohol. They were also involved in gambling and prostitution. In addition, they used a wide network of criminal partners, including international partners, to bring illegal drugs, particularly opium, into the United States.