Topic Proposal

Formal Proposal – Johnathan Vazquez and Josh Michaels

For our project we have chosen Prohibition and its relation to Mafia/organized crime in the United States during the 1920s-1950s. The United States during the 1920s, became a dry country. The government issued a Prohibition banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol. It was an attempt to civilize unruly Americans. The experiment had many unintended consequences, but most dangerously, it fostered the rise of organized crime/mafia from Chicago to New York. The result was organized crime syndicates forming neighborhood gangs, often preying on those in their own communities. The objective of this project is to demonstrate and answer the question of What did the prohibition do to the organized crime of New York and how did that crime organize itself ? One would learn about mafia activity and the way that organized crime orchestrated throughout the city, as well as the movement and clashes of said crime.

The approach for such a project would be to design a heat map of the activity, demonstrating how organized crime/mafia, organized throughout the city of New York. This of course will be based on collected data from 1920s to 1950s New York. By using newspapers of that era and collecting census data, the intention is to design a modern heat map of crime overlaying various ethic groups/gangs involved, over each other in New York. Newspaper data will be collected from outlets during the 1920s-1950s such as; The New York Times, NewYork Post, Buffalo News. Libraries and online scholarly sites such as JSTOR, EBSCOhost, and ProQuest will prove to be effective in collecting data. As for the Census data that could be tricky to achieve, but nevertheless doable.

 In doing so, the sources will be answering questions such as, If any what were the boundary lines? In addition, did crime escalate more in gang boundary lines or within each gangs territory. More importantly, who were the gangs involved committing violence. Topics covered by the project will be popular/public perceptions of the violence. How did the people react to such violence and racketeering? In addition did the media play a role in escalating/de-escalating violence? The map itself will be part of a bigger project specifically an Omeka. For instance, a website that will feature and display the map, timeline, and images. Within the map will be descriptive text attached to each coordinate crime. Thus making the map an interactive format. The images displayed on the site will provide insight depth into just how violent crimes were. Such images would include newspaper clippings or a specific article related to that particular crime. The source/tool to design the map will be Mymaps. The map will be based on coordinates of each crime/violence committed. Displaying colors such as red, yellow, and green in order to display the intensity of violence, each crime represented by the number of pins at points on the map. Our ambition is to design a link to our bibliography/ references so that our readers can easily reference a particular stats or information. We will be using a google spreadsheet to store our data for example ethic groups, time, location including longitude/ latitude.  

The significance of the project is to illustrate the micro-history of organized crime in 1920s-1950s New York. In doing so provide insight into how organized crime orchestrated during the prohibition. We would be providing a detail digital interactive representation of New York during the prohibition era, specifically how organized crime orchestrated and its effects.

We will be using historical thinking skills such as evidence and interpretation, cause and consequence to analyze our findings and digitize our research. Having this be available in a digital format, would allow easier accessibility to the general public. We understand how ambitious and big this project could escalate too, so for time sake some categories could be cut/left off.


Primary Sources:

U.S. Census Bureau. “Table 33. New York – Race and Hispanic Origin for Selected Large Cities and Other Places: Earliest Census to 1990” (Accessed March 8, 2020)

    Using the Census data provided in the document we hope to create a map of the demographics of the city of New York to better understand who lived where for the sake of gang territories and use that as part of our creation of the heat map.

“Violent Crime Cut By 11%, Says Whalen, But Killings Rose 5%: 1929 Report Lays 55 Of 357 Slayings To Gangs And Warns. Rackets Must Be Smashed. Property Loss $10,226,963 Figure, Excluding Auto Thefts, Compares With $11,317,291 In 1928–$3,078,668 Regained. Prevention Aim Stressed Deeds Of Violence Here Total 74% Per 100,000 Population, Lowest Of 7 Cities, Says Commissioner. Property Loss $10,226,963. Gang Rule “Challenge.” Violent Crime Cut 11%, Whalen Says Letter Accompanies Report. Visits To Crime Scenes. Stresses Duty Of Prevention. Says Police Must Lead. Points To Youth Of Offenders. Notes Development Of Gangs. Discusses The Gun Market. Deplores Hostile Witnesses. Reports On Public Morals. Calls Traffic Grave Problem. Says Fair Pay Is Necessary. Must Train Policemen. Drastic Curbs Needed. Courtesy Is Emphasized. Defends Optimistic Note.” New York Times (1923-current File), May 12, 1930.

A 1930 article detailing the increase in killing through the city despite the violent crime cut and quoting a threat to the gangs that were causing this uptick in threats to the safety of the city.

“Total Population by Census Tract New York City, 1920”

Similary to the census data, this map shows the total population by borough as of 1920

Landesco, John. “Prohibition and Crime.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 163 (1932): 120-29. Accessed March 9, 2020.

An article detailing crime and its relation to prohibition, it provides stats and charts depicting crime.

A large portion of our primary sources will be coming from the New York Times’ old articles as well but we have yet to have the time to go digging very far into that large of a database.

Secondary Sources:

Secondary Sources:

Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld. 1st Paragon House ed. New York: Paragon House, 1990.

We hope to use this to use this for general starting background knowledge on the gangs of New york as more of a baseline understanding of what gangs existed and how they opperated.

Lawson, Ellen NicKenzie. Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City. Excelsior Editions. Albany: Excelsior Editions, 2013.

A history of the Prohibition and its many trouble makers that we are planning to use to put greater detail into discussion about the gangs themselves such as the chapter on the Broadway Mob

Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008.

To be used more as a background piece on the prohibition itself rather than on the gangs but still useful for setting the social climate of the time that led to the gang activity that apppeared during the era.

Moore, Sean T. “National Prohibition in Northern New York.” New York History 77, no. 2 (1996): 177-206.

A large history of New York over many years. We are particularly interested in just a single chapter that focuses on the prohibition era in Northern New York and talks about the work of gangs in the area as well as statistics from that time and area.

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