Ain’t Misbehavin? The World of Gangsters

New Exhibit  April 23 – October 23, 2016

final title graphic no art deco.jpgHoover and Prohibition

When President Herbert Hoover entered the White House in 1929, prohibition was already the law. The 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919 and took effect nationwide in 1920. It called for a ban on alcohol sales in one year. States struggled to enforce prohibition and the federal government was apprehensive to become involved. Street criminals turned into “organizations” and the modern “mob” was born.

During the campaign of 1928 Hoover supported prohibition and promised more effective enforcement of laws. He recognized that lax enforcement created and fostered an environment that permitted the growth of organized crime. In his inauguration speech, Hoover called for better enforcement, a reform of the criminal justice system, and blamed “citizens” for not following laws. “A large responsibility rests directly upon our citizens. There would be little traffic in illegal liquor if only criminals patronized it,” Hoover proclaimed.

The new exhibit at the Hoover Museum – Ain’t Misbehavin’? The World of the Gangster covers several aspects of this time period. You will enter the exhibit through a Hat Shop, as you pass through the Hat Shop you step into a recreated Speakeasy. Leaving the Speakeasy out the back door, you enter into an alley that takes you to a Butcher Shop, Cafe, Pharmacy and Flower Shop. Each of these stores is hiding something in their back rooms, something not quite legal.

Ain’t Misbehavin’? Includes:
These were the people who illegally transported or sold alcohol. During Prohibition, stills could be found everywhere. On display in this section will be stills, whiskey barrels and bottles.

Speakeasy and the Jazz Age
A “speakeasy” was a place which illegally sold alcoholic beverages during Prohibition. A speakeasy could be as simple as a room with two chairs and a bottle, or as complicated as a large club featuring a live show and jazz band. On display in the recreated speakeasy is a trumpet belonging to Louis Armstrong and items of Bix Biederbecke.

During the 1920s the term “gangster” was used for two different types of criminals – mobsters and outlaws. Mobsters belonged to and/or ran large organized crime rings. Outlaws were robbers and kidnappers who became national celebrities as a result of their crimes. Among the items featured in this section are two Thompson Machine guns and a Colt 45 associated with the Dillinger Gang.

In 1924, the FBI assumed responsibility of the national fingerprint collection. Daily they add to their collection of over 50 million prints. New technology at the time of prohibition led to wire-tapping. This part of the exhibit will feature items from the FBI – a fingerprint kit and a phone tapping machine.

Explore the Prohibition Era (1920-1933) with this new exhibit, Ain’t Misbehavin’? The World of the Gangster, at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum in West Branch, Iowa from April 23 – October 23, 2016. Open 9-5 daily and located ¼ mile off Interstate 80 at Exit 254. For more information, call 319-643-5301 or visit the website at:

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