Throughout this section of the site I will be using the term American Mafia to distinguish it from the original Sicilian Mafia. The distinction is not just a matter of semantics. The two bodies had until recently been separate entities and moreover, the Sicilian Mafia had no power or say over the activities of the American Mafia. I also want to preserve the distinction because in the near future I want to discuss the four principal crime organizations that currently exist in Italy, namely the Mafia, the Camorra, 'Ndranghetta, and the Sacra Corona Unita.

So before getting into a brief timeline about each family, I think it's useful to discuss how they came to be. Prior to the American Mafia's ascent to power, the rackets in America were largely controlled by Jewish and Irish gangsters. There was of course an Italian presence in the defunct organization known as The Black Hand. This organization was chiefly involved in protection rackets against other Italians. I will talk more about The Black Hand in a near future post. [N.B.: If you watch The Godfather Part II, the character Fanucci is a member of The Black Hand and in those sequences, you can get a good idea of how The Black Hand operated]. At the same time that The Black Hand was in existence, there were Sicilian mafiosi in America, and the chief players were Joe "The Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Prior to Luciano's ascension to power as a result of the Castellammarese War - more on that in a moment - the most powerful gangster of the time was Arnold "The Big Bankroll" Rothstein. Rothstein, a Jewish gangster, is best known as the man who "fixed" the 1919 World Series in which the heavily favored Chicago White Sox lost to the underdog Cincinnati Reds. [N.B. A great book and movie about this is titled Eight Men Out]. Rothstein had his hand in many things other than sports fixing however including bootlegging and diamond smuggling. Rothstein will get his own dedicated thread. Rothstein was grooming a protege named Salvatore Lucania who would eventually become one of the powerful and feared American Mafia figures better known as "Lucky" Luciano.

Masseria and Maranzano were known as "Mustache Petes." This was a name used for old time Italian gangsters who frequently sported rather elegant mustaches. These guys were also very greedy and were resistant to change. Luciano, in addition to being a killer so vicious that even the perhaps more famous Al Capone feared him, was also a brilliant strategist and tactician. Luciano realized that the rackets could make a lot more money if the internecine warfare would cease. Bear in mind that at the time, Jewish, Irish, and to a lesser extent Italian mobsters were all vying for the proverbial piece of the pie. To Luciano, it was important to have all of the pie and share it as he saw fit. The narcotics trade was in its infancy at the time and prophetically, Luciano saw that one day it would be one of the biggest cash cows for the rackets. Unfortunately for the world, he was right. It was Luciano who was directly responsible for the beginning of the heroin trade in the US and Canada.

Luciano faced two daunting tasks. He had to get rid of Masseria and Maranzano and he had to send a message to the Jews and the Irish that the Italians were in control. He was able to accomplish both tasks by eliminating Masseria and Maranzano during what was termed the Castellammarese War, so named for Maranzano's home town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. In 15 April 1931 Masseria was hit. Maranzano had agreed to betray Masseria in exchange for an ending of the conflict and in addition the condition that he would be labeled capo di tutti capi meaning "boss of bosses." The killers who dispatched Masseria included two of the most notorious gangsters in American Mafia history: Albert Anastasia and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. Maranzano however underestimated the cunning of Luciano who had of course brilliantly engineered the betrayal to ultimately whack Maranzano. The capo di tutti capi met his fate on 10 September 1931. The killing of Maranzano marked the beginning of the modern American Mafia with ther establishment of The Commision by Luciano in the same year.

In part II, we will look at how The Commision was set up as well as a brief history of the major events in each of the Five Families.