A Brief History of the American Mafia

A Brief History of the American Mafia


Thank you to Skillshare for sponsoring this video. Grazie! I’m Mr. Beat. I’m the boss, the don of this channel, you could say. Now listen up here wise guy, this video’s about the American mob. Now, I’m not here to make one’s bones. In fact, one might call me a rat. In this video, I’m gonna explain how criminal organizations often called the Mafia, or the Mob, rose to power in the United States, especially in the Golden Age. I’m sure you’re already aware of the Mafia, thanks to The Godfather or Martin Scorsese films. But I hate to break this to you, The Godfather and Martin Scorsese films aren’t exactly all that historical. So first of all, the media and law enforcement first used that term Mafia, to describe criminal groups in Sicily. You know, the Mediterranean island in Southern Italy. Or the rock that Italy is kicking. Anyway, Giuseppe Esposito, the first known Sicilian Mafia member to move to the United States, fled to New York City after killing a bunch of politicians and wealthy landowners back in Sicily. Esposito ended up in New Orleans, where, in 1881, detective David Hennessey caught him and sent him back to Italy. By this time, the Sicilian Mafia spread throughout both New Orleans and New York City. They wanted revenge. On October 15, 1890, they found Hennessey, now the superintendent and chief of police, and murdered him, execution style. In response, New Orleans police arrested hundreds of Sicilians, eventually accusing 19 for Hennessey’s murder. However, after a bunch of acquittals and mistrials and rumours the jury had been bribed, an angry mob formed outside the prison. On March 14, 1891, they broke into the prison, dragging out the indicted Sicilian men and killing 11 of them. These killings are perhaps the largest known mass lynching in American history. After the lynchings, the term “Mafia” now entered the American national dialogue. More Americans had anti-Italian feelings, calling for more restrictions to prevent Italians from immigrating to the country. Oh yeah, and the whole Italian mob stereotype was born. So how did the Sicilian Mafia evolve into the American Mafia? Well, from the 1890s to the 1920s, the rise and fall of various gangs would lead to their organization. And yes, many of these gangs attracted young, poor, Italian men with ties to Sicily. However, it’s important to point out that not all of these gangs were Italian. For example, the Five Points Gang was mainly made up of Irish Americans. Although, its leader, Paul Kelly, was Italian. Well that’s not a very Italian sounding name, Mr. Beat. Yeah, his real name was Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli. And he changed his name so it sounded more Irish. The big rival gang to the Five Points Gang was the Eastman Gang, who were mostly Jewish. Other gangs in the mix in New York City in the early 20th century were the Cherry Hill Gang, White Hand Gang, the Yakey Yakes, and the Sugar Hill Gang. Just kidding. That last one was just a rap group that came around later on. Anyway, many of these gangs participated in an extortion racket known as The Black Hand. The name came from gang tactics like sending a letter to someone threatening to kill them or kidnap a loved one unless she or he paid a specified amount of money. These letters often were signed with a hand held up as a gesture of warning, which was usually imprinted with black ink. And yes, many of these gangs had lots of political influence, particularly with Tammany Hall, a Democratic Party political organization that controlled New York politics and helped immigrants get political power. Out in Chicago, Al Capone’s Italian American crime organization known as the Chicago Outfit gained power in the 1920s, mostly through the illegal distribution of alcohol during Prohibition. But it wasn’t just Chicago. These bootlegging gangs rose up all over the country, and yes many of them attracted Italian Americans, especially as a wave of new Italian immigrants came to the United States after fleeing Mussolini after he took control. By the end of the 1920s, the two largest Italian criminal organizations in New York got into a war with each other. Seriously, it was even called the Castellammarese War. On one side, Joe Masseria. On the other, Salvatore Maranzano, who conspired with Masseria’s own lieutenant, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, to have Masseria killed. Luciano did kill Masseria on April 15, 1931, ending the so-called Castellammarese War and putting Maranzano now in charge as the most powerful American Mafia boss. He set up The Commission, or governing body to rule the American Mafia. The Commission had a ruling committee made up of bosses of crime syndicates around the country. In particular, Maranzano somehow got New York crime families who previously hated each other to join forces. These five families, the Bonannos, Colombos, Gambinos, Genovese, and Lucchese, collectively were known as the Five Families, and they all agreed to share power. Maranzano was the first leader of an organization now called La Cosa Nostra, which translates to “Our Thing.” He named Lucky Luciano the first boss of the Genovese family. However, Maranzano started to act like a dictator and threatening the balance of power, and so Luciano ended up turning on HIM, sending dudes disguised as accountants to murder him. So Luciano was now in charge, but in 1936, the police got him for operating a prostitution ring. The judge sentenced him up to 50 years in prison, yet Luciano only ended up serving ten. After his release, the American government deported him to Italy. However, he remained an important liaison between the Sicilian Mafia and American Mafia. Even after Prohibition ended, the American Mafia held onto to power and even expanded it. After all, other drugs were still illegal. And it diversified its black market activities. There was loan sharking, gambling operations, protection rackets, selling illegally obtained goods. The Mafia even gained control of the labor unions, especially the Teamsters and International Longshoremen’s Association. Jimmy Hoffa, who served as President of Teamsters, notoriously got in trouble with the law due to his ties with the Mafia. In New York City, the Mafia became so powerful that the majority of construction projects didn’t happen without approval from one of the Five Families. Using loans they got from the Teamsters’ pension fund, Mobsters built and owned at least 19 Las Vegas casinos, likely many more than that. And throughout the country, the Mafia faced little opposition from the police, who often either didn’t have the resources to fight them or, in many cases, didn’t even know they existed. The head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover famously denied their existence. Those within police forces or the courts who did know were often bribed or intimidated. And not that anyone in the Mob would snitch to the police anyway. It wasn’t until 1951 that the federal government brought national attention to the American Mafia. Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee led a committee to investigate the effect organized crime had on interstate commerce, and they even called in suspected mobsters like Frank Costello in to testify. Yeah, none of the mobsters provided any helpful information. However, the hearings got lots of media attention, raising awareness about organized crime and making Kefauver a household name. In fact, a fictionalized version of the hearings later appeared in The Godfather Part II. (Godfather: Part 2 clip) Six years later, New York State Police stumbled upon a meeting of major La Cosa Nostra leaders from around the country in the upstate town of Apalachin, at the home of Joseph Barbara, or Joe the Barber. I guess you could say police got suspicious when all these fancy cars with out of state license plates showed up to the sleepy little town. They detained and indicted more than 60 Mafia bosses. The Apalachin Meeting, as it was called, confirmed the existence of a nationwide crime organization and finally got J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s attention. And in 1963, the FBI got their first big time snitch. Joe Valachi became the first mobster to give up secrets about the inner workings of the Mafia. After that, the FBI began a more aggressive attack, and it was harder for the Mob to hide. The FBI created the Organized Crime Strike Force in various cities, and then, in 1970…RICO. Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which increased penalties for racketeering and specifically targeted the leaders of organized crime to get in trouble for having others carry out crimes for them. The Mafia pressed on, however, by continuing to diversify. In the 1970s, they got into betting on college sports and tax fraud. Still, prosecutors were successful at weakening the Mafia by carrying out RICO. By the 1980s, the FBI was able to get rid of Mafia control of Vegas casinos and loosen their control over labor unions, which as a whole were on the decline anyway. As the 20th century came to a close, it was obvious the power of the American Mafia was on the decline. But don’t be fooled. They were still a force to be reckoned with. In 2002, the FBI estimated the Mob still made at least $50 billion a year. Eh, today the Mafia still exists. There’s about 3,000 members, according to the FBI. mostly in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City. And don’t worry guys. I know that some of you might be watching right now, inevitably. I’m not a snitch, alright. I’m just going through some history here, alright? But yeah, today the Mafia is more low key, often outsourcing their work to other criminal groups, like biker gangs. I’m not joking. And, as long as there is a way to make money from illegal stuff, there will be organized crime. So organized crime continues today, and while we typically hear about it more in places like Mexico and Guatemala, it’s pretty much in every country. And it thrives in places where politicians are corrupt or where they feel helpless. Where they are taking bribes or looking the other way when organized crime takes over. But enough of this garbage business. I’m going to go do a little, uh, spring cleaning. Alright? I gotta go. If you want to be an earner, but you don’t want to resort to the violence of the Mob, how about getting yourself some nice skills? On Skillshare. It’s an online learning community for creators, with more than 25,000 classes in design, business, and more. The premium membership gives you unlimited access, so you can learn sooooooo much, joining whatever classes and communities that fit you best. Whether you want to fuel your curiosity, creativity, or even career, Skillshare is the perfect place to keep you learning and just making yourself better, man. It’s also cheap. I paid thousands of dollars at a public American university to become semi-fluent in Spanish, only to forget most of it years later. Now, with Skillshare, I’ve been trying out classes like Peter’s Hanley’s The non-stop speaking Spanish course to become semi-fluent again. And this all for less than $10 a month for an annual subscription. So join the more than 7 million creators learning on Skillshare. The first 500 subscribers to use the link in the description of my video will get a 2 month free trial. Heck yeah. So what do you think about the Mob? Should I join? Eh, forgetaboutit. I want to apologize for my really cringey impersonation of a stereotypical mobster. This video topic was recommended by my amazing patron Pillerstiller Bahn Ruthington. I took his suggestion because he donates $20.19 a month to me on Patreon. I’m not joking. Thanks for your great suggestion, and all of your help with the script Pillerstiller. If you want YOUR suggestion heard, too donate at the Grover Cleveland level, at least or higher, and I will take it. Speaking of Patreon, here’s my monthly shout out to all my Patreon supporters who donate to me at least $10 or more a month. President Storm, Eric B Wolman, Elcaspar, Jojo’s Dogtail, Matt Standish, Nik Everett, Sean Conant, Cjkavy, Kenneth, Chris, John Johnson, Unnamed Muffin, Chris Prall, and Victor Warmflash. Thank you all for your support. I love you. And if you’re still watching this video. Thank you, too. I love you. In a completely platonic kind of way. Don’t get the wrong idea here.

100 thoughts on “A Brief History of the American Mafia

  1. In before the "well actually" folks tell me how to pronounce Italian words:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbPp13icx1c

  2. Normally I'd make a comment but the mispronounced names annoyed me cheers love your stuff..geez I'm a fan

  3. Great video Mr. Beat! As usual. The production value was especially great this time.

    Fun fact, my grandfather was a prominent lawyer for the Detroit mob. Yes, death threats were fairly common.

  4. Surely it's pronounced ess-po-ZEE-to? As in Tony and Phil Esposito of hockey fame? Also, the language on the chalk board at 7:16 is Spanish, not Italian.

  5. When it comes down to it, I think Al Capone was one of the deadliest gangsters of all time. The very federal government was after him!

  6. To just give a little criticism, you got some of these incorrect, but you are on the right track either way good video👌🏾

  7. The U. S. mobs bosses were kittens compared to Salvatore Riina, also called Toto The Short, also called THE BEAST, the guy was unusually cruel and brutal, and killed everyone that stand in his way.

  8. My friends girlfriends grandpa was an Irish mobster in the 70s. I'm not giving his name or which Irish mob he was involved on, because I don't want to dox her, as they have the same name and he has a wikipedia page.

  9. What a coincidence about the Italian connection Matt. Since March I have been posting an Italian themed miniseries once a month on my channel called "Road to Monza". Feel free to give it a look (apologies for the squashed in nature of the shots, something happened to my editing software). As for the video (notified on YouTube that you uploaded it) great as usual, very informative 🙂

  10. Goodfellas is actually a very accurate film about mob life. The Godfather is more mythical. Even Henry Hill himself said Goodfellas was 90% accurate to the real events that were depicted. Still a good video. Keep up the great work

  11. Nice Mob vid.
    This is totally unrelated but I have to thank you, because your Maryland v King video got me extra credit in class.

  12. Sad to say mafia violence is still alive and thriving back in the old country(s). There’s a low-level mob war going on in my area (suburbs of Tel Aviv) and nobody seems to be doing much about it. It’s not like people are getting shot all the time, but the looks of it the Israeli mafia has never been more powerful. 🙁

  13. Italian here.
    FUN FACT: The ''Mafia'' is only one of FOUR world-spanning italian criminal organizations. Each nastier and more powerful than the last. And yes, they all operate in the US.

    I've done some research so comment below if you have any questions.

    Rockin' that Coppola by the way, Mr.Beat. Love it!

  14. Good job I hope they don't plug you for this. Cuz you're only you got your information from the internet so yeah I mean you're not telling anybody important anything they don't already know

  15. What might be surprising is how baked in the grift was to the Roman Republic. All the political positions were pay to play starting with tax collectors who would pay the sum of a region's taxes to the state…and then go collect the taxes from the citizens. Talk about your Malcolm Gladwell outliers with a head start on them 10k hours , lolz.

  16. Ugh – – Mr. Beat butchered at least half of those last names. – – he should have done better research.

  17. In later popular culture, the early 1930s was a golden age of organized crime. But the media at the time didn't think about it that way. Crime reporting focused on the declining Irish gangs. Far less attention was paid to Italian gangsters until 1936, when Lucianno was prosecuted. The story of the "Castellammarese War" has been told in a hundred mob movies, including _The Godfather_. Yet the only source to support the claim that such a war occurred at all is mobster Joe Valachi, who testified before the U.S. Senate in 1963, over thirty years after the supposed event.

  18. I loved this, having heard of "The Kefhauver Hearings" before, but without context as to what they concerned.

    This was great, but I'm surprised there wasn't a passing mention of John Gotti, as even a schmuck like me recognizes the name. I'm sure some other comment mentioned this too, but the absence of that very public chapter of mob history was only noticed by me because of how well this was executed.

  19. I always heard that the Sicilian mob makes the American mob look like children… and that the Russian mob makes the Sicilians wet themselves.

  20. omfg god the way you pronounce esposito…. its not es-paw-sih-toe. its es-poe-zee-toe. i cant even get past 1:11 with the butchering of this guy's name and im not even italian, im half chinese and irish. growing up in canada its hard not to hear the name of NHL hall of famer Phil Esposito.

  21. You should probably learn how to pronounce the people's name and the family's name before you do the documentary.

  22. You can't do video about American Mafia without Carlo Gambino the man who controlled the US for 20 years.

  23. Dont let ww mislead you. He ll act like someone pointed. Thats what he has been doing for cents within the region.

  24. You're fucking lying Goodfellas is literally based on a true story but the story wasn't of an Italian mobster he was half Irish but he was associated with the real mob

  25. Good video but Esposito was not the first mafia member to come to the US. That was Rafaelle Agnello who was running New Orleans during the Civil War.

  26. Charles Luciano was the founder of The Commission.

    https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/organized-crime/history-of-la-cosa-nostra

  27. Love your videos Mr Beat! "But"…the photo of Maranzano in this video isn't Maranzano, it's a photo of London gangster Salvatore Messina.

  28. There is a supreme court case about who owns the statue of liberty either NY or NJ can you do a video on this topic?

  29. It's very hard to believe that J. Edgar Hoover did not know about the existence of an organization as large as the mafia.

  30. 3:13 what about giggity gang weed? they're the best gang out there pushing back against the the rising threat of the far left and kicking down the dying force of the far-right Boomers!

  31. Great video as always! I suggest a video on the history of early Chinese Tong wars in the Old West.

  32. Fun annecdote: When my parents lives briefly in Tuscon AZ, they lived in the same neighborhood as Jim "Bananas" Banano.

  33. Good video. But Shatner in "A Piece of the Action", you are not! You look more like someone in "The Sting"…..

  34. He is a fucking stupid man. All of his videos is fake news. He is the typically american who know nothing of Europe.

  35. One might argue over pronunciations of last names, but I commend you on your perfect pronunciation of Apalachin, NY. I grew up there.

  36. My grandma told me that my grandpa was in the mafia in Florida. She stayed with him for 9 years and was helping him with drugs and some shit like that💀. I know some of yall are gonna say "why is she still dating him for that long?". When she tries to leave during those years, he always calls someone to go find her. He also cheated on her and now my mom has 9 or 10 siblings. When my grandmother heard that he killed two people she decided to take my mom and move to the country and this time, he was fine with that. My mom hasn't talked to her dad for over 16 years because when he heard that she's pregnant, he was LIVID and she was over 21 when she had me sooo idk what's the fucking problem 💀. My mom decided to to stop talking to him. Soo yeah.. we dont know if the nigga is dead or not lol.

  37. Where I live the closet thing to a mafia was a bunch of Italian gmail's who made bootleg alcohol in the 20s now they all own resturnats my great great grandpa may have helped them a little I dont know since his side of the fmaily was european

  38. The only big problem with the video is how you said Martin Scorcese’s last name. It’s pronounced as score-say-z.

    Keep in mind that how I’ve always heard it so I could be wrong, but either way, I really enjoyed the video

  39. This is so crazy. No shit I am sicilian and I worked for David Hennessy's great-something grandsons in New Orleans. No wonder that place was so crazy!

  40. 7:28 ….Sort like how politicians have denied for so long that ANTIFA are terrorists? Maybe the Mafia was also a “useful idiot” for the government?

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