Ken Burns Classroom

Alphonse Capone

Ken Burns Film: Prohibition

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 6-12


Al Capone
Al Capone, with a cigar and a big smile, leaving federal building in Miami, Fla., preceded by his attorney Abe Teitelbaum. Source: The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Originally the chief enforcer for the boss of Chicago crime, Johnny Torrio, Al Capone inherited all of Torrio’s Chicago operations after Torrio’s attempted murder and subsequent move to NY. By 1931, Al Capone was at the top of his game. He had no real rivals among Chicago’s mobsters. And he continued to expand his empire in case Prohibition was repealed. He took over labor unions – chauffeurs, plumbers, city workers, motion picture projectionists, soda pop peddlers, and kosher poultry dealers.

Most gangsters did their best to stay out of sight. Al Capone held press conferences at which he presented himself as what he called a “public benefactor” who offered Chicago citizens the “light pleasures” they wanted. The nation’s newspapers breathlessly covered it all, making the publicity-hungry Capone one of the best-known Americans on Earth.

“So all the gangsters who had their own neighborhoods in Chicago started vying for the work in their territories. Well, the strong won out and they ended up with the district. And the weak ended up in the cemetery.”
–Jack Clarke

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