25 Pictures of the Booze-Fueled Heyday of Atlantic City

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Atlantic City, New Jersey is known for its casinos, boardwalks, and beaches. In the early part of the 20th century, Atlantic City went through an explosive period of growth.

In the 1920s, tourism peaked in this coastal city. When Prohibition was enacted nationally in 1919, which lasted until 1933, Atlantic City was a hotbed for drinking and gambling in the back rooms of night clubs and restaurants. Prohibition was generally unenforced in Atlantic City and because alcohol that was smuggled into the city could readily be obtained, the city grew even more.

It was during Prohibition that the mob boss Enoch “Nicky” Johnson came to power in the city dubbed as “The World’s Playground.” Nucky Johnson’s income, around $500,000 ($7.2 million) annually, came largely from illegal liquor distribution, gambling, and prostitution.

The mayor of the city was Edward Bader, who made significant contributions to the construction, athletics, and aviation of Atlantic City. He purchased the land that would become the airport and high school football stadium. He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Miss America competition.

Atlantic City, after World War Two, became plagued with poverty, crime, and corruption. The development of the personal automobile allowed for shorter stays in the resort town. Another big factor in the decline of the city was the cheap, fast flights to Miami and the Bahamas.

Enoch L. ‘Nucky’ Johnson ran Atlantic City during the ’20s and ’30s. Johnson’s power and wealth came from taking a percentage of the illegal liquor, gambling and prostitution operations in the city. Above (l.) he is handcuffed to the United States Deputy Marshal in 1941 after being convicted of tax evasion and being sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. He was paroled five years later and took a pauper’s oath to avoid paying his $200,000 fine. AP Photo
‘We have whiskey, wine, women, song and slot machines. I won’t deny it and I won’t apologize for it. If the majority of the people didn’t want them they wouldn’t be profitable and they wouldn’t exist. The fact that they do exist proves to me that the people want them,’ Johnson told The New York Times in 1968. Proving his point, above, more than 500,000 people crowded the boardwalk in 1923 to witness the Bathers Revue, comprised of more than 1000 bathing beauties and over a score of bands. nydailynews
A crowd bustles across the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1923 on Palm Sunday. nydailynews
The bootleg booze from which Nucky Johnson earned his fortune helped grease the wheels of Atlantic City’s revelers. Above, in 1930, police are seen dumping beer from barrels into the sand in Atlantic City during Prohibition. nydailynews
Besides the sea of alcohol, Nucky was surrounded by a sea of beautiful women. He chose to marry showgirl Florence ‘Flossi’ Osbeck in 1933. Above, in 1941, a 58-year-old Nucky and his 33-year-old wife cut their wedding cake before he went to prison. nydailynews
Nucky’s showgirl wasn’t the most beautiful woman in Atlantic City at the time. That honor went to Miss Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C, who won the first Miss America pageant in 1921, which was later re-named to Miss America in 1922. PACIFIC AND ATLANTIC
In 1924, a crowd of an estimated 300,000 watches the sort of beauty parade that eventually gave birth to the Miss America pageant. nydailynews
But it wasn’t all pageants and beauty queens. Atlantic City was also home to the Atlantic City Speedway where the likes of Harry Hartz speed across the finish line in 1926 to win the inaugural race. Pacific and Atlantic
Atlantic City’s history of sports attracted people like Arnold ‘The Brain’ Rothstein, seen in the year of his death, above. Believed to be behind baseball’s notorious Black Sox scandal, he also lost millions on racetracks and other forms of gambling before being fatally wounded in 1928. He refused to name his assailant. Pacific and Atlantic
Atlantic City became a refuge for criminals on the run from the law. Above is the Hotel Danmore, where the FBI’s last ‘public enemy,’ Alvin Karpis escaped a police shootout. He was later caught by J. Edgar Hoover in 1936. nydailynews
Prince and Princess Albert de Calais also spent their honeymoon in Atlantic City in 1931. Pacific and Atlantic
Miss America, Katherine Campbell, of 1922 and 1923 is seen during Rolling Chair Parade in Atlantic City. Pacific and Atlantic