The 1920s saw a rapid increase in the American crime-rate. This was mainly owing to the illegal alcohol trade that had been developed to overcome prohibition. All the main cities in America suffered from this problem but the most violent and corrupt was Chicago. During the late 1920s Chicago was dominated by a gangster called Al Capone. It has been estimated that in 1929, Capone's income from the various aspects of his business was $60,000,000 (illegal alcohol), $25,000,000 (gambling establishments), $10,000,000 (vice) and $10,000,000 from various other rackets.

In order to protect such lucrative business interests from other gangsters, Capone employed a team of heavily armed men. Gang warfare broke out in Chicago. The most notorious incident was the St Valentine's Day Massacre when six leading members of the Bugs Moran gang were executed in a garage by gangsters dressed in police uniforms.

Primary Sources

(1) Alexander Bashky, The Nation (21st January, 1931)

Gangsters and racketeers play so prominent a part in the American life of today that it would be little short of a miracle if their exploits were ignored by the movies. Nor are they. In fact, the number of films dealing with the underworld and its criminal activities is altogether too great. The week under review saw four new pictures in New York belonging to this class. It is the business of movies, as it is of the theatre, to reflect life. The trouble with these films is that they reflect the life of the underworld in a light that is altogether false. They crown the hold-up man and the safe-breaker with the romantic halo of bravery and adventure that helps to disguise their fundamental moronism.

(2) Frederick Lewis 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 dispensation of booze of the whole city of Chicago. Within three years it was said that he had seven hundred men at his disposal, many of them adept in the use of the sawed-off shotgun and the Thompson sub-machine gun. As the profits from beer and alky-cooking (illicit distilling) rolled in, young Capone acquired more finesse - particularly finesse 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 only five hundred gang murders in all. Few of the murderers were apprehended; 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.

Cornelia Barns, The Liberator (1931)
Cornelia Barns, The Liberator (1931)