The Benjamin Mitnick Family
Immigrants were willing to work hard, and Grandpa Mitnick was no exception. But
his labor was not producing the wealth he had envisioned would come when living in
America, the land of the free. It was still a dream.
Still a dream, until the 1920’s Prohibition, when bootlegging brought him all the
money he’d ever imagined having. There’s no way to write this delicately. Bootleggers
were smugglers and distributors of illegal alcohol. When the Eighteenth Amendment to
the Constitution went into effect in January of 1920, most of the public was opposed to it,
especially those from major port cities like New York and Providence, where many of the
immigrants were of German, Irish, Jewish, or Catholic backgrounds. Daily beer drinking
was a part of their culture. History shows that the Protestants—especially the women who
were often victims of domestic violence and economic deprivation because of their
alcoholic or perpetually drunken husbands—had pushed for a prohibition of alcohol.
They were joined in their efforts by many business or factory owners who wanted sober
workers on the job to produce quality products.
The Amendment, called the National Prohibition Act, and also known as the Volstead
Act, called for the restriction of the “production, sale, transportation, importation, and
exportation of alcoholic beverages,” but not the drinking of them. Laws rarely impede
those who can see how to work around them. This one was no exception. Thousands
horded alcohol or established ties with those who could buy it from foreign sources,
especially from Canadian bootleggers, and smuggle it into the States. Of course, those
with the most connections were mobsters. Grandpa Mitnick had his eyes and ears open
and made his connections. For the sake of the family, of course.
My grandfather was not the only one capitalizing on the illegal distribution of alcohol.
Several books and many other sources have documented that Joseph Kennedy, the father
of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, made his fortune in the same manner.
Drinking of spirits of any kind and quality, from beer to the finest scotch, whiskey,
rum or wine, continued to be big business. When we think of this period of history, we
often envision it through the early movies that depicted the secret clubs called
speakeasies, where drinks were served to those who knew the secret code to gain
entrance. Reports say that at least 30,000 such establishments existed in NYC, and drinks
that once cost patrons a nickel could be sold for 50 cents. The speakeasy owners grew
adept at disguising the quality and taste of their bootlegged liquor, usually of a cheaper
quality, by adding fruit juices or ginger ale or tonic; and thus, the “mixed drink” was
At a young age, by today’s standards, my uncles frequented these speakeasies. Mother
told me about her “spoiled brothers,” who, even in their teens, had new cars and many
girlfriends. Grandpa would buy Uncle Moe and Uncle Jack another car whenever they
crashed one and filled their palms with as much cash as they needed. While the girls in
the family were home tending to all the cleaning and laundry, bed linen changing,
grocery shopping and cooking, the boys were cruising the town. This pattern was set way
before I came along. Connections counted and secrecy worked. My uncles took their
“work” seriously and understood how Grandpa
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