Saturday, December 13, 2008

Joseph Stenson, Torrio's "Silk Hat"

Joseph Stenson was a leading brewery owner in pre-Prohibition Chicago, the co-owner, with thre brothers, of the Stenson Brewing Company. After the start of Prohibition in 1919, Stenson went into business with Johnny Torrio, the famed leader of the Chicago Outfit, who took over after the death of "Big" Jim Colosimo, and who first brought Al Capone to Chicago.

It was a perfect combination. Torrio had years of experience and tutelage under Colosimo in paying off the police and operating outside the law; Stenson knew the brewery business inside and out. Together, they turned Chicago into the bootlegging capital of the country.

On Nov. 17, 1924, the front page of the Chicago Daily News first introduced the world to Torrio's low-profile business partner, though circumspectly:
John Torrio and a Chicago brewer are the twin kings of commercialized crime in Cook County today...And the brewer is so completely above the law, so thoroughly protected from prosecution, that it is unsafe to mention his name, though the police and the prosecutors know quite well who he is.
The Chicago Tribune had no such misgivings about mentioning Stenson's name, and they did so in the following day's edition. They referred to Stenson as Torrio's "silk hat," the scion of wealth living in the heart of the Gold Coast, whose fortune (which it is estimated, came to $12 million) came from vice.

Stenson's home was at 1218 N. Astor (pictured above), the most prestigious street in the city to this day, and could not have been more different than the 22nd st. Levee district that Torrio ran or the middle-class Southside building Torrio lived in. Stenson's home still stands, and recently changed hands for a sum of $3.5 million.

1 comment:

lee dumett said...

torrio was a genius, he knew stenson would be willing to violate the volstead act, and together they made millions.