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Alphonse Gabriel Capone, better known as Al Capone, was born on 17 January 1899 in New York City. One of nine siblings born to Neapolitan immigrants, Al Capone was forced to leave school at the age of 14, following a series of fights with a teacher. After that, it didn't take long for him to join the Brooklyn Rippers, a gang well known for its petty crimes and local disturbances.
Before he was even 20, Capone was married with one son and working for Frankie Yale, the leader of the infamous Five Points Gang. It was during this time that Capone had the knife fight that earned him the notorious cheek scar and the nickname Scarface. Al Capone moved to Chicago by order of Yale, who was worried that his protégé was "heating up" the local gang scene too much by assaulting and killing two rival gang members. It didn't take long for him to find his place in the new city –In just a couple of months, he became second in command to Johnny Torrio, a well-known thug.
During the Prohibition era, Al Capone made over 100 million US dollars (USD) a year in the illegal trade of alcohol and prostitution. Despite several attempted assassinations and his obvious criminal conduct, Capone remained invulnerable until he was convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison in 1932. This conviction was the result of the extensive work of the Untouchables, a fierce group of US Treasury agents under the leadership of Eliot Ness.
Once in Alcatraz, Capone started to lose much of his confidence and power. Betrayed by internal friends and unable to bribe guards to get what he wanted, he slowly became erratic and was ultimately diagnosed with dementia. He spent several years at the Baltimore State Mental Institution before being set free in 1945. Capone died of pneumonia in 1947, leaving behind a crumbling empire and a lot of speculation about a secret vault containing much of his gold.
Al Capone was well-known among Chicago residents for his generosity. He opened several soup kitchens in poor suburbs, provided milk rations to children to help fight a rickets epidemic, and often helped impoverished Italian-Americans. He also owned the Cotton Club, a notable spot for celebrities and local entertainment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Al Capone and why is he famous?
Al Capone, also known as "Scarface," was a notorious American gangster who rose to infamy during the Prohibition era as the leader of the Chicago Outfit. His fame stems from his control over illegal activities such as bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution, as well as his involvement in the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Despite his criminal empire, Capone was eventually convicted for tax evasion and sentenced to prison, as detailed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/al-capone).
What was the extent of Al Capone's criminal empire?
At the height of his power in the late 1920s, Al Capone's criminal empire was vast, with estimates of his organization's earnings reaching $100 million annually, equivalent to about $1.4 billion today when adjusted for inflation. His operations spanned across various illegal enterprises, most notably the bootlegging of liquor during Prohibition. The Chicago Outfit, under Capone's leadership, had significant influence and control over the city's political and law enforcement systems (Biography.com, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/al-capone).
How did Al Capone impact American society during the Prohibition era?
Al Capone's impact on American society during the Prohibition era was multifaceted. He exploited the public's demand for alcohol, which was made illegal by the 18th Amendment, to build a lucrative black market. His operations contributed to the rise of organized crime and the corruption of public officials. Capone's notoriety also influenced public perception, challenging the effectiveness of Prohibition and ultimately playing a part in its repeal in 1933 (History.com, https://www.history.com/topics/crime/prohibition).
What led to the downfall of Al Capone?
The downfall of Al Capone was primarily due to the relentless pursuit by federal authorities, particularly the efforts of Eliot Ness and his team of agents, known as "The Untouchables." Unable to convict Capone on his numerous criminal activities, the government successfully prosecuted him for tax evasion in 1931. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, which he served at Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary and Alcatraz, effectively ending his control over the Chicago Outfit (National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/spring/al-capone-1.html).
What is Al Capone's legacy in modern culture?
Al Capone's legacy in modern culture is one of fascination and notoriety. He is often depicted in films, television shows, and literature as the quintessential American gangster. His life story has become a symbol of the excesses and dangers of organized crime, as well as the complex interplay between law enforcement and criminality during the Prohibition era. Capone's influence extends into discussions on criminal justice reform and the glamorization of crime in popular media (Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/al-capone-true-crime-legacy-180975315/).