Previously we discussed the modest beginnings of the Italian mafia in North America and how during the nineteenth century they had been restricted to the small areas traditionally inhabited by immigrants to the United States, specifically areas such as East Harlem, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side in New York and the 19th Ward in Chicago. The status quo remained the same until the era of prohibition began in 1920.
In what should have been an obvious turn of events, the act of making a popular item illegal created a gigantic new market for those with the capability to smuggle and operate a black market. Alcohol was manufactured at increasingly sophisticated home-made stills as well as being imported from Canada and occasionally from Europe. It was not until 1933 that the Cullen-Harrison Act and then the Twenty-First Amendment were signed, effectively ending prohibition but having given organised crime groups 13 years in which to perfect their operations and gain black market control of large areas of the Unites States.
Of course the desire to control these new markets led to new and turf battles and by the end of the 1920s New York has seen a period of consolidation following the murder of one of the families’ heads, Joseph Massiera, in the Castellammarese War. This event actually united the warring families and Salvatore Maranzano became the leader within New York and, as a consequence, the country. He instituted codes of conduct and set up an organisational structure which was able to handle disputes without resorting to violence. The organisation was now referred to as it was in Sicily – Cosa Nostra. meaning ‘our thing‘ or ‘this thing of ours‘. Unfortunately Maranzano had not progressed far enough for some of his subordinates and his self-appointment as capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses) grated with some.
Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, his immediate underling who had actually helped him win the
Castellammarese War, now conspired with others to dispose of Maranzano (just before Maranzano disposed of them). Luciano then took control, establishing The Commission, a group consisting of the heads of all the country’s powerful families and through this mechanism decision were made and disputes were resolved without the need for a boss of bosses.
Part Three follows