The terms “gangster” and “mobster” are mostly used in the United States to refer to members of criminal organizations associated with Prohibition. 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 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. Al Capone was one of these notorious gangsters during the Depression era for the Chicago Outfit. Capone would rise to control a major portion of illicit activity such as gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging in Chicago during the early 20th century.
In New York City, by the end of the 1920s, two factions of organized crime had emerged to fight for control of the criminal underworld, one led by Joe Masseria and the other by Salvatore Maranzano. This caused the Castellammarese War, which led to Masseria’s murder in 1931. Maranzano then divided New York City into five families. Maranzano, the first leader of the American Mafia, established the code of conduct for the organization, set up the “family” divisions and structure, and established procedures for resolving disputes. In an unprecedented move, Maranzano set himself up as boss of all bosses and required all families to pay tribute to him. This new role was received negatively, and Maranzano was murdered within six months on the orders of Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Luciano was a former Masseria underling who had switched sides to Maranzano and orchestrated the killing of Masseria. As an alternative to the previous despotic Mafia practice of naming a single Mafia boss as capo di tutti capi, or “boss of all bosses,” Luciano created The Commission in 1931, where the bosses of the most powerful families would have equal say and vote on important matters and solve disputes between families. This group ruled over the National Crime Syndicate and brought in an era of peace and prosperity for the American Mafia.