Teaching Students About Mickey Cohen: A Notorious American Mobster

Get your students intrigued by history with a fascinating and creative approach to learning about one of Los Angeles’ most notorious figures, Mickey Cohen. Engaging students in the study of this iconic crime boss personifies the turbulent times of LA in the mid to late 20th century. This article provides you with practical tips, ideas, and resources for creating an inspiring lesson plan that will capture the attention of your learners.

1. Setting the scene:

Begin by familiarizing your students with post-WWII Los Angeles, discussing its rapid population growth, cultural changes, and thriving entertainment industry. Highlight the city’s glamorous appeal and how it attracted mobsters like Mickey Cohen seeking power and wealth.

2. Delve into Mickey Cohen’s background:

Introduce Mickey Cohen as the notorious gangster who became synonymous with organized crime in Los Angeles during the 1940s and 1950s. Discuss his early life in Brooklyn, his move to Los Angeles, his start in boxing, and his gradual involvement in criminal activities.

3. Key moments in Cohen’s criminal career:

Explore key events during Mickey Cohen’s rise to power, including his association with fellow mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his involvement in gambling rackets, prostitution, and loan sharking. Discuss how these activities led to significant tensions between rival gangs, which ultimately contributed to Siegel’s assassination.

4. Investigating law enforcement efforts:

Examine the challenges law enforcement faced when trying to apprehend Mickey Cohen and put an end to his criminal empire. Discuss the role of LAPD Chief William H. Parker and his efforts to clean up corruption within the police department while simultaneously targeting organized crime.

5. The final years:

Cover Cohen’s eventual incarceration on multiple occasions for tax evasion, as well as other charges leading to his downfall. Describe his life following his release from prison, including his multiple attempts to re-enter the public eye as a reformed individual and his death in 1976.

6. Linking history to present-day Los Angeles:

Encourage students to consider the lasting impact Mickey Cohen’s actions had on the city of Los Angeles. Discuss present-day challenges related to organized crime and corruption within law enforcement, drawing parallels to those faced during Cohen’s reign.

7. Activities for extended learning:

– Invite students to conduct further research on figures connected to Mickey Cohen, such as Bugsy Siegel or LAPD Chief William H. Parker.

– Engage students in a debate on whether or not Mickey Cohen’s criminal activities were solely responsible for the rise of organized crime in Los Angeles.

– Utilize creative writing prompts to encourage students to craft a fictional story set during the time of Mickey Cohen’s rule over Los Angeles.


Get your students excited about history by offering them a unique lens through which to view the past. By exploring the story of Mickey Cohen, you can captivate their attention and inspire them to delve deeper into the complex and fascinating stories that form Los Angeles’ rich history.

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