The Rise of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano

Al Capone Around 1935
Al Capone Around 1935. Public Domain. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Five Points Gang is one of the most infamous and storied gangs in the history of New York City. Five Points was formed in the 1890’s and maintained its’ status until the late 1910’s when America saw the beginning stages of organized crime. Both Al Capone and Lucky Luciano would rise out of this gang to become major gangsters in America. 

The Five Points gang was from the lower east side of Manhattan and numbered as many as 1500 members including two of the most recognizable names in “mob” history – Al Capone and Lucky Luciano – and who would change the way that the Italian crime families would operate.

Al Capone

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 17, 1899, to hardworking immigrant parents. After quitting school after the sixth grade, Capone held several legitimate jobs that included working as a pinboy in a bowling alley, a clerk in a candy store, and a cutter in a book bindery. As a gang member, he worked as a bouncer and bartender for fellow gangster Frankie Yale's at the Harvard Inn. While working at the Inn, Capone received his nickname “Scarface” after he insulted a patron and was attacked by her brother.

Growing up, Capone became a member of the Five Points Gang, with his leader being Johnny Torrio. Torrio moved from New York to Chicago to run brothels for James (Big Jim) Colosimo. In 1918, Capone met Mary "Mae" Coughlin at a dance. Their son, Albert "Sonny" Francis was born on December 4, 1918, and Al and Mae were wed on December 30th. In 1919, Torrio offered Capone a job to run a brothel in Chicago which Capone quickly accepted and moved his entire family, which included his mother and brother to Chicago.

In 1920, Colosimo was assassinated – allegedly by Capone – and Torrio took control of Colosimo’s operations to which he added bootlegging and illegal casinos. Then in 1925, Torrio was wounded during an attempted assassination after which he placed Capone in control and moved back to his home country of Italy.

Al Capone was now finally the man who was in charge of the city of Chicago.

Lucky Luciano

Salvatore Luciana was born on November 24, 1897, in the Lercara Friddi, Sicily. His family immigrated to New York City when he was ten years old, and his name was changed to Charles Luciano. Luciano became known by the nickname “Lucky” which he claimed he earned by surviving a number of severe beatings while growing up on the Lower East side of Manhattan.

By the age of 14, Luciano dropped out of school, had been arrested numerous times, and had become a member of the Five Points Gang where he befriended Al Capone. By 1916 Luciano was also offering protection from the local Irish and Italian gangs to his fellow Jewish teens for five to ten cents a week. It was also around this time that he became associated with Meyer Lansky who would become one of his closest friends and his future business partner in crime.

On January 17, 1920, the world would change for Capone and Luciano with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. “Prohibition” as it became known provided Capone and Luciano the ability to garner huge profits through bootlegging.

 

Shortly after the start of Prohibition, Luciano along with future Mafia bosses Vito Genovese and Frank Costello had started a bootlegging consortium that would become the largest such operation in all of New York and allegedly stretched as far south as Philadelphia. Supposedly, Luciano was personally grossing approximately $12,000,000 a year from bootlegging alone.

Capone controlled all alcohol sales in Chicago and was able to set up an elaborate distribution system that consisted of bringing in alcohol from Canada as well as setting up hundreds of small breweries in and around Chicago. Capone had his own delivery trucks and speakeasies. By 1925, Capone was earning $60,000,000 per year from alcohol alone.