Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1929 Ital.-Amer. mafioso
Subjectmafioso gangster/mobster
Culture: Italian-American
Setting: Prohibition, Chicago/urban America 1920-1933
Evolution1861 Sicilian picciotto > 1900 Black Hand mafioso > 1929 Italian-American mafioso

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Behr 1996 p176-178
"[N]owhere was the collusion between politics and organized crime more spectacularly evident than in Chicago, where Mayor 'Big Bill' Thompson's three-term reign led to a virtual breakdown in law and order, and a situation in which ... gangs virtually ran the city.  'Thompson,' wrote Fletcher Dobyns, 'made Chicago the most corrupt and lawless city in the world.'
    "[...] Long before 1920, the Chicago gangs had established a tacit but effective modus vivendi, sharing out their most lucrative activities -- gambling, prostitution, 'protection,' and strike breaking -- throughout the various inner city wards.  Paradoxically, the fact that local politicians ... were so intimately involved in the management and protection of Chicago's many brothels meant that violent crime was relatively rare.  The politicians' vested interests gave Chicago's red light districts and aura of respectability -- all those involved knew that bloodshed and gangland violence drove the customers away.
    "Prohibition brought this era to a close.  The reason Chicago became synonymous with gang warfare -- from 1920 to 1923, nearly eight hundred gangsters were killed in shoot-outs with other gangsters -- was the irresistible profit motive.  With no legitimate source of liquor left, clubs, speakeasies, and private dealers were compelled to turn to the bootleggers, and these, increasingly under the thumb of underworld bosses, became ready prey.
    "From 1920 onward, a new breed of gangsters emerged to take advantage of the new situation.  Underworld leaders -- the term is inappropriate because they made little attempt to conceal their activities -- used their links with politicians and politically appointed city officials, including the police and even the judiciary, to eliminate their rivals with virtual impunity.  Given the cozy, mutually rewarding relationship that existed in Chicago between politicians and mobsters even before Prohibition, the gangland saga that followed was eminently predictable, even though the gangsters' political allegiances had always been notoriously fickle."

*Hughes 2005 p3-4
"There were gangsters in the US before the 1920s, of course. [...]
    "But the gangster of the 1920s was different.  The Prohibition era not only made the gangs mroe money and gained them more power, it saw them get organized.  It also made them popular, bringing them into contact with respectable society -- often high society.  Opera lover Al Capone fashioned himself as a businessman who was simply performing a public service: meeting demand with supply.  And because he was so vocal and so conspicuous, he also brought the gangster into popular mythology, rendering him very distinct from his nearest outlaw predecessor, the Wild West gunslinger.  The gangster was a man of the city, who exploited everything that the city had to offer: cars, clothes, nightclubs and Tommy guns."

* Souter 2014 p167
"Boosted in authority by the amounts of money raised by gangs defying Prohibition, the outlaw-turned-gunman flourished in cities and rural areas. Gang control of illegal alcohol eroded law enforcement and became its own culture. In Chicago alone -- the hub of internecine criminal warfare -- four years of assassinations resulted in 215 murders, yet no convictions were secured by the legal process. The frustrated police during this same period shot and killed 160 criminals in running gun battles -- eliminating the value of the code of silence evoked by the underworld when it came to legal procedure.
    "Add to this carnage the open emergence of the Unione Siciliana (equated with the Mafia) and their continuing blood vendettas brought over from Sicily and inflamed by booze distribution turf wars. The gun had become judge and jury, forever linking what had begun during nineteenth-century western expansion with the hard, cynical edge of modern urban culture."

* Brown/Miller 2017 January p91 caption
"Italy and U.S. 1930  In Sicily and Chicago, Mafia groups gave rise to extreme masculine behavior, defined by violence and terror, and conditional masculine behavior, where status depends on being in the group and leaving can mean the loss of manhood, or even one's life."

* Reppetto 2004 pxi-xii
"One element of the culture of southern Italian criminals did equip its members for success in American organized crime -- their businesslike approach.  Non-Italian gangs grew mostly out of neighborhood bonds formed by young men who committed ordinary crimes such as robbery, burglary, or assault.  Even as Prohibition transformed these gangs into powerful mobs, they continued to operate much as they had in their wild early days, shooting at the drop of an insult; their organizations were largely extensions of street gangs.  When death or imprisonment removed leaders of IrishJewish, or Polish gangs, their organizations usually collapsed.  In contrast, despite their reputation for violence and ruthlessness, Italian leaders eschewed senseless mayhem in favor of more rational methods.  Men like Chicago's Johnny Torrio and New York's Lucky Luciano displayed remarkable organizational skills.  Torrio was a quiet little opera-loving family man and Luciano a tough drug dealer who squired Broadway and Hollywood beauties, but both built their mobs along corporate lines.  They parceled out territories and adopted rules to provide for the arbitration of disputes.  In the mold of Rockefeller or Morgan, they formed syndicates to end wasteful competition.  Like other businessmen, they established national associations to promote common interests.  When they passed from the scene, their organizations remained, lasting to the present.  Thus while Prohibition was a lucky break for all gangsters, the Italians were better able to profit from it."


* Asbury 1940 p339-340
"Chicago seemed to be filled with gangsters -- gangsters slaughtering one another, two hundred and fifteen in four years; gangsters being killed by the police, one hundred and sixty in the same length of time; gangsters shooting up saloons for amusement; gangsters throwing bombs, called 'pineapples'; gangsters improving their marksmanship on machine-gun ranges in sparsely settled districts; gangsters speeding in big automobiles, ignoring traffic laws; gangsters strutting in the Loop, holstered pistols scarcely concealed; gangsters giving orders to the police, to judges, to prosecutors, all sworn to uphold the law; gangsters calling on their friends and protectors at City Hall and the County cafés; tuxedoed gangsters entertaining at the opera and the theater, their mink-coated, Paris-gowned wives or sweethearts on their arms; gangsters entertaining politicians and city officials at 'Belshazzar feasts,' some of which cost twenty-five thousand dollars; gangsters giving parties at which the guests playfully doused each other with champagne at twenty dollars a bottle, popping a thousand corks in a single evening; gangsters armed with shotguns, rifles, and machine-guns, convoying beer trucks; gangsters everywhere -- except in jail.  And all with huge bank-rolls; a gangster with less than five thousand dollars in his pocket was a rarity."

* Hughes 2005 p222
"Whether it's dark shades and black suits of recent screen criminals, or the fedora, spats, diamond tiepin, and pinstripes of his classic counterpart, clothes maketh the gangster. [...]
    "Donning a tuxedo is another signifier of newly acquired wealth and status: when we first see the now successful Rico in Little Caesar, he's looking at himself in the mirror, worrying about how the tux looks on him, while his assistant suggestively alters his trousers and admiringly informs him that he's 'getting up in the world'.  In Quick Millions, Spencer Tracy looks longingly at himself as he's about to spend a night at the opera, realizing that the tuxedo has completely masked his former profession of truck driver: 'you could never picture me in overalls,' he poignantly comments.  The gang boss in The Street With No Name (1948) orders a young recruit to 'buy yourself a closetful of clothes.  I like my boys to look sharp.'  And it's not just the sharpness of the clothes, it's the way they wear them, as in James Cagney's aggressive tilting of his cap in The Public Enemy."


* History of the gun in 500 photographs 2016 p178-180
"The antagonists in the Chicago Prohibition wars relied on a common selection of firearms. The swift-firing Thompson 1928 submachine gun became the most notorious of the time, responsible for countless deaths, including some fatalties [SIC] during the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929 among rival gang members from Chicago's North Side. The tommy gun, named for its inventor, John Thompson, featured a 50-round drum magazine containing potent .45 caliberACP cartridges. Double-barreled shotguns were also popular on both sides of the law, and gangsters favored sawed-off versions that were concealable beneath long coats.
    "Another weapon adapted from the military to urban law enforcement (and organized crime) was the Colt semiautomatic 1911, which had a seven-round magazine and also fired powerful .45-caliber rounds. ...
    "Smith & Wesson made inroads in the expanding marketplace for police weapons with the S&W Registered Magnum, a .357-caliber revolved both powerful and precise.  The six-round Registered Magnum, later known as the Model 27, weighed less than two points and was accurate to 150 feet.  Unsurprisingly, it soon became popular with the bad guys as well as G-men and local cops."

* Newton 1990 p91
"The granddaddy of American submachine guns is the venerable Thompson.  Available for sale to private citizens throughout the 1920s, 'Tommy guns' were boosted by an advertisement featuring a cowboy, furry chaps and all, intent on blasting mounted rustlers from the saddle.  Cities that required a special license for the ownership of handguns found the Thompson selling briskly in compliance with prevailing law, and Prohibition syndicates were quick to take advantage of the weapon.
    "Typically, Chicago led the way, with introduction of the Tommy gun to bootleg warfare in the fall of 1925.  It would not reach Detroit until the spring of 1927, when the Purple Gang employed at least one Thompson in the Collingwood Apartments massacre, and mafioso Frankie Yale was first to feel the weapon's bite in New York City, during 1928.  We have no tally for the Thompson's gangland body count, but all its other outings paled beside the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre, with seven members of the Bugs Moran gang falling in a blaze of automatic fire."

* Sifakis 1999 p360
"The Thompson submachine gun -- nicknamed the 'tommy gun,' Chicago Piano,' 'chopper' and 'typewriter' -- was described by a Collier's magazine crime reporter: 'the greatest aid to bigger and better business the criminal has discovered in this generation ... a diabolical machine of death ... the highest powered instrument of destruction that has yet been placed at the convenience of the criminal element ... an infernal machine ... the diabolical acme of human ingenuity in man's effort to devise a mechanical contrivance with which to murder his neighbor.'  With accolades like that, the American Mafia quite naturally became the weapon's best customer.
    "[...] To Thompson's disappointment the army had no interest in the weapon which at $175 seemed expensive.  Ironically, its prodigious rate of fire also worked against it.  The army felt it used too much ammunition.
    "The underworld had a much more positive attitude about the gun.  Organized bootlegging gangs found it a spectacular aid as an intimidator weapon during hijackings, and the way it could turn an automobile into a sieve in a half-minute made it very attractive for assassination purposes.  Best of all, it was completely legal.  While many states and cities had passed laws similar to New York's 1911 Sullivan Law, prohibiting the possession of easily concealable weapons without a permit, there was no restriction on tommy guns, which could even be ordered through the mail.  When stricter federal and state laws finally were enacted, the underworld was still supplied, although the illegal price jumped into the thousands of dollars."