Prohibition, when the U.S. outlawed alcohol in 1920, made the mafia rich, stupidly rich. The one thing history has taught us, if you make a vice illegal, there will “always” be someone in an illegal capacity ready and willing to provide that vice. When the prohibition starter pistol went off, the Mob took up the call and bootlegging was officially underway.
Arnold Rothstein looking for small-time gangsters for this new opportunity, sought out Meyer Lansky. “He invited me to dinner at the Park Central Hotel, and we sat talking for six hours. It was a big surprise to me. Rothstein told me quite frankly that he had picked me because I was ambitious and ‘hungry’.”-Meyer Lansky as told by Robert Lacey, Little Man. Mr. Rothstein did this for a lot of small-timers, pitting them against each other if you will.
Meyer Lansky owned a car and truck rental business. This became the cover for the bootlegging business. Benny Siegel and Moe Sedway were his partners. Bootlegging depended on good transportation. Benny and Meyer rented out vehicles without a lot of questions and paid their own friends to deliver the product, often called chauffeur-rumrunners. Moe supervised the trucks coming in.
Meyer and Benny also had a couple of speakeasies of their own. Meyer, the entrepreneur, also had craps games. Both businesses liked to have alcohol readily available. Meyer profited from both sides (super smart right), transporting and serving alcohol. The best of both worlds. Enter Meyer’s brother Jack who started working with Meyer at this time. Jack didn’t have Meyer’s intellect or his street smarts but he had something equally as powerful – loyalty. You can’t buy brother loyalty.
Illegal books were kept in the mind so there was no paper trail. Meyer could calculate numbers and keep the books in his head like none other. Pretty much this made him an illegal business genius. Meyer’s best quality and the secret to his success was to always be up front and honest. You were promised “x” and you got “x.” Nobody got the short end of the deal. Nobody got “dead.” He was the most honest “gangster” in the bootlegging business. This served him well his whole life and always in his business dealings.
Meyer rarely boasted about his success. He kept things close to the chest. Meyer did open up to the journalist Uri Dan, “To cut costs and increase efficiency, we chartered our own ships to bring the Scotch across the Atlantic,” he said. “I must say, in all modesty, that we ran things well…By the middle twenties we were running the most efficient international shipping business in the world.”-Robert Lacey, Little Man
The Prohibition riches funded their next adventures.