Born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, to poor immigrant parents, Al Capone went on to become the most infamous gangster in American history. In 1920 during the height of Prohibition, Capone's multi-million dollar Chicago operation in bootlegging, prostitution and gambling dominated the organized crime scene. Capone was responsible for many brutal acts of violence, mainly against other gangsters. The most famous of these was the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, in which he ordered the assassination of seven rivals. Capone was never indicted for his racketeering but was finally brought to justice for income-tax evasion in 1931. After serving six-and-a-half years, Capone was released. He died in 1947 in Miami. Capone's life captured the public imagination, and his gangster persona has been immortalized in the many movies and books inspired by his exploits.
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Did You Know?
Capone earned $60 million annually selling illegal liquor.
Capone's Early Years in New York
Alphonse Capone (1899–1947) was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of recent Italian immigrants Gabriele and Teresina Capone. A poor family that came to America seeking a better life, the Capones and their eight children lived a typical immigrant lifestyle in a New York tenement. Capone's father was as a barber, and his mother was a seamstress. There was nothing in Capone's childhood or family life that could have predicted his rise to infamy as America’s most notorious gangster.
Capone was a good student in his Brooklyn elementary school, but began falling behind and had to repeat the sixth grade. It was around that time that he started playing hooky and hanging out at the Brooklyn docks. One day, Capone's teacher hit him for insolence and he struck back. The principal gave him a beating, and Capone never again returned to school. By this time, the Capones had moved out of the tenement to a better home in the outskirts of the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was here that Capone would meet both his future wife, Mary (Mae) Coughlin, and his mob mentor, numbers racketeer Johnny Torrio.
Capone Meets Johnny Torrio
Torrio was running a numbers and gambling operation near Capone's home when Capone began running small errands for him. Although Torrio left Brooklyn for Chicago in 1909, the two remained close. Early on, Capone stuck to legitimate employment, working in a munitions factory and as a paper cutter. He did spend some time among the street gangs in Brooklyn, but aside from occasional scrapes, his gang activities were mostly uneventful.
In 1917, Torrio introduced Capone to the gangster Frankie Yale, who employed Capone as bartender and bouncer at the Harvard Inn in Coney Island. It was there that Capone earned his nickname "Scarface." One night, he made an indecent remark to a woman at the bar. Her brother punched Capone, then slashed him across the face, leaving three indelible scars that inspired his enduring nickname.
Capone in Chicago
When Capone was 19, he married Mae Coughlin just weeks after the birth of their child, Albert Francis. His former boss and friend Johnny Torrio was the boy's godfather. Now a husband and a father, Capone wanted to do right by his family, so he moved to Baltimore where he took an honest job as a bookkeeper for a construction company. But when Capone's father died of a heart attack in 1920, Torrio invited him to come to Chicago. Capone jumped at the opportunity.
In Chicago, Torrio was presiding over a booming business in gambling and prostitution, but with the enactment in 1920 of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol, Torrio focused on a new, more lucrative field: bootlegging. As a former petty thug and bookkeeper, Capone brought both his street smarts and his expertise with numbers to Torrio’s Chicago operations. Torrio recognized Capone's skills and quickly promoted him to partner. But unlike the low-profile Torrio, Capone began to develop a reputation as a drinker and rabble-rouser. After hitting a parked taxicab while driving drunk, he was arrested for the first time. Torrio quickly used his city government connections to get him off.
Capone cleaned up his act when his family arrived from Brooklyn. His wife and son, along with his mother, younger brothers and sister all moved to Chicago, and Capone bought a modest house in the middle-class South Side.
In 1923, when Chicago elected a reformist mayor who announced that he planned to rid the city of corruption, Torrio and Capone moved their base beyond the city limits to suburban Cicero. But a 1924 mayoral election in Cicero threatened their operations. To ensure they could continue doing business, Torrio and Capone initiated an intimidation effort on the day of the election, March 31, 1924, to guarantee their candidate would get elected. Some voters were even shot and killed. Chicago sent in police to respond, and they brutally gunned down Capone's brother Frank in the street.
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