In the early hours of December 21, 1935, New York City’s mayor strolled into the bronx market followed by a dozen policemen.
Hopping up onto the back of a cabbage truck, mayor LaGuardia turned and addressed the assembled farmers and street vendors.
Starting in one week, the mayor announced, New York City will be instituting a total ban on the sale, display, or possession of a “a serious & threatening” commodity.
This substance, which had been funding a vast underground mafia network, was the humble artichoke.
You see, two decades earlier, a couple of Italian farmers out in California had started growing a crop of one of their favorite vegetables; the artichoke.
But while it turned out Californians weren’t too keen on them, newly immigrated italians on the east coast couldn’t get enough of their favorite vegetable!
Soon the Italian farmers out in California were sending train cars full of artichokes straight to New York, barely able to keep up with demand.
But then the fast-growing artichoke trade caught the eye of the Morello-Terranova crime family.
At first, the mafia family simply imposed an “informal” import tax on every artichoke train car coming from California. But then things began to escalate.
Mafia agents were sent to California to intimidate farmers into limiting their crop size to further increase demand, while at the same time forcing the farmers to sell their artichokes at decreased prices straight to the mafia.
Those who resisted were threatened with areal gas bombings and crop slashing, which proved to be a very effective intimidation tactics.
And by 1935, the Morello-Terranova mafia was in control of every artichoke that entered New York, making over $63 million in profit. The head of the family, Ciro Terranova, was known far and wide as the Artichoke King.
What happened next? Well, there was such an uproar about the lack of artichokes that mayor LaGuardia’s ban lasted only a week.
And because the whole affair made front-page news, the artichoke quickly became a trending vegetable far beyond just the Italian immigrant community, with newspapers and magazines across the country featuring recipes and plating suggestions.
As it turns out, you can’t keep hungry people from their artichokes!