- "During Prohibition - we ran molasses into Canada - made a fortune - your father, too."
- ―Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone[src]
Prohibition was the period of time in the United States, when the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned. It lasted from 1920, from the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, to 1933, when the Twenty-first Amendment repealed it.
With the sale of alcohol made illegal, many criminal enterprises turned to bootlegging, or the making and transport of illegal alcoholic beverages. Enforcement of the ban proved to be difficult, and criminal operations flourished. Illegal bars and clubs, called speakeasies, opened up, offering the public the chance to drink and be entertained.
After more than a decade, Prohibition became increasingly unpopular, especially in large cities, and it was repealed, with states allowed to choose their own alcohol regulation policies.
The Mafia took advantage of prohibition and began selling illegal alcohol. The profits from bootlegging far exceeded the traditional crimes of protection, extortion, gambling and prostitution. Prohibition allowed Mafia families to make fortunes. As prohibition continued victorious factions would go on to dominate organized crime in their respective cities, setting up the family structure of each city. Since Mafia gangs hijacked each other's alcohol shipments, forcing rivals to pay them for "protection" to leave their operations alone, armed guards almost invariably accompanied the caravans that delivered the liquor.
In the early 1920s Italian Mafia families began waging wars for absolute control over lucrative bootlegging rackets. As the violence erupted, Italians fought Irish and Jewish ethnic gangs for control of bootlegging in their respected territories. In New York City, by the early 1930s two factions of organized crime had emerged to fight for control of the criminal underworld: one led by Salvatore Maranzano and the other by Vito Corleone. This caused the Olive Oil War, which led to Maranzano's murder in 1933. Vito Corleone then divided New York City into the Five Families.
After prohibition ended in 1933, organized crime groups were confronted with an impasse and could no longer maintain the high profits they had acquired through the 1920s. The smarter of the organized crime groups acted prudently and expanded into other ventures such as unions, construction, sanitation and drug trafficking. On the other hand, those Mafia families that neglected the need to change eventually lost power and influence and ultimately vanished.
- Al Capone
- Salvatore Maranzano
- Lucky Luciano
- Arnold Rothstein
- Vito Corleone
- M. Corbett Shea
- Hyman Roth
- Moe Greene
- Giuseppe Mariposa
- Rosario LaConti
- Luca Brasi
- Sonny Corleone
- Dutch Schultz
- Harry Strauss
- Jack Diamond