Teaching Students About Meyer Lansky


Meyer Lansky, a prominent figure in organized crime during the 20th century, played a major role in the development of the American mafia. As an instrumental figure in the criminal underworld, Lansky offers valuable insight into the complexities of Mafia culture and historical events that shaped its presence in America. This article aims to introduce educators to the importance of teaching about Lansky and how incorporating his story into history curriculum can significantly enrich students’ understanding of this complex era.


Born in 1902 in Poland, Meyer Lansky immigrated to the United States with his family when he was nine years old. Growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Lansky befriended Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, forming a life-long partnership that would propel them to the forefront of organized crime. Known as the “Mob’s Accountant,” Lansky’s keen financial mind and investment acumen provided a legitimate façade for some of his illicit activities, including gambling operations in Las Vegas and Cuba.


1. Understanding the appeal of organized crime: Teaching about Meyer Lansky helps demonstrate how some Americans were drawn to organized crime during Prohibition and after World War II. By analyzing socioeconomic factors playing into this trend, students can better comprehend its allure for immigrants facing poverty and discrimination.

2. The impact on American society: Discourses involving Meyer Lansky will raise students’ awareness on how organized crime extended beyond violence and vice, influencing industries like film, sports, politics, and even international affairs.

3. The complexity of ethics and morality: By studying Lansky’s life, students will have the opportunity to explore themes such as loyalty, family values, friendship, betrayal, power dynamics, and greed. These themes challenge commonly-held views on crime and morality, prompting students to consider complex moral dilemmas.


– Use multimedia resources: Incorporate film clips, photographs, and primary source documents that provide a comprehensive portrait of Lansky’s life while engaging students. The Godfather Part II and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire are two examples of popular culture that portray the Lansky character.

– Encourage critical discussions: Analyze the complexities of Meyer Lansky’s life from various perspectives, encouraging students to examine both the actions and consequences of his involvement in organized crime. Foster debates on topics such as personal ambition, the American Dream, and societal impact.

– Examine connections with law enforcement: Investigate Lansky’s interactions with law enforcement agencies throughout his career. His evasion of prosecution for many years provides a unique opportunity to discuss criminal justice systems’ approach to organized crime in America.


Meyer Lansky’s controversial life allows educators to teach various aspects of American history while promoting a more nuanced understanding of organized crime’s relevance and impact on society. By incorporating his story into lessons, teachers can encourage critical thinking and robust discussions among students as they grapple with the ethical complexities and historical significance surrounding this enigmatic figure.

Choose your Reaction!