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Corruption During the 1920s


    During the 1920s, the United States was booming with economic activity and growth. This era, labeled the Roaring Twenties because of the economic and social growth the nation was experiencing, transformed the way the United States worked. After World War I, the United States emerged as a creditor nation and finally exerted its international power. At the same time, the nation so increases in social powers, such as the rights of women, who gained their suffrage in the Nineteenth Amendment. However the United States, though moving in an economic direction unparalleled in the nations history, also saw the 1920s as an era marked with economic corruption and injustice. During the 1920s, in the time of prohibition, poor men such as Al Capone took advantage of opportunity and created prosperous crime rings, and the rich men of society, such as Rockefeller, wheedled through the economic system to achieve a common end, success, despite the American ideal of equality.

            During the 1920s, the American economy saw great increases due to post-war conditions. Innovators such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison helped to revolutionize the economic and social spectrums of the United States, which led to an increase in consumerism. However, at the same time, men sought to gain wealth and prominence through other less reputable venues of society. In the 18th Amendment, the United States government ban the sale of alcohol within the United States, however the demand for the drink was still high. During this era, gangs arose to supply the alcohol that was still in high demand, and rivaling gangs often ended disputes in violent feuds. One of the men who embodied this era was New York native Al Capone.

            Al Capone, the symbol of American corruption during the 1920s, was born in New York, the same place in which Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby takes place. Capone joined two New York gangs while he was still young, and picked up his first two deaths at a young age. After he showed his ferocity by hospitalizing another gang member, he was sent to Chicago, the city for which he is remembered. Despite his corrupt actions, by the time Capone was forced out of Chicago, his businesses were reported in making over $100,000,000 annually (Al 1). This situation parallels that of Gatsby within The Great Gatsby, as Gatsby’s “business” was centered in Chicago as Nick finds out by phone. Gatsby, like Capone, also achieves exorbitant amounts of money from his ventures, allowing him to live more than comfortably. However gang members like Capone were not the only ones who were involved in corruption during the 1920s, as many of the wealthiest families of the 1920s also worked their way to the top through questionable means.

            Though not as corrupt as Capone and the Chicago gangs that are alluded to in The Great Gatsby, wealth American families were working the newly developed tax system in the 1920s to gain a little more for their work. During the 1920s, the Twentieth Amendment established a federal income tax, to help regulate the nations wealth. However, wealthy families such as the Rockefellers were using legal loopholes to reduce the amount of taxable income, such as philanthropy. By doing so, it is reported that the Rockefellers paid millions less than their taxable income during this period, evidenced in their payment of near $6,270 on a taxable income of $15,000,000 (Sledge 2). Although the offense is not as severe as the bootlegging and gang actions of men such as Al Capone, men from all aspects of society were trying to wheedle their way to the top during the 1920s with whatever means necessary.

During the 1920s, the United States experienced an unparalleled time of economic growth, but with this growth came the desire of men in all aspects of society to take advantage of this success for themselves. As shown in the actions of the 1920s and reemphasized in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the 1920s was a time of economic success that ushered in droves of corruption within the developing economic fabric of the United States.

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 Works Cited

“Al Capone”. Chicago Historical Society. Available 3 Feb. 2004:                                                              

Sledge, Medlina. “Different Styles of Wealth”. 5 May 2001. Avaliable 3 Feb. 2004: