Meyer Lansky was born as Majer Suchowlinski on July 4, 1902 in Grodno, Poland. His parents were both Jewish and moved the family to the United States in 1911, where they settled in New York City.
In school, Meyer met a boy named Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who tried to shake Meyer down for protection money. When Meyer refused to pay Luciano any money, a brawl started and he put up a good fight. Afterward, Luciano was very impressed with Meyer's fighting abilities and the two ended up becoming good friends.
In 1920, Meyer met Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, who joined with Meyer and Luciano to form the Five Points Gang. Meyer was the perfect partner to Luciano, providing brains to go along with Luciano's balls In the 1920s, they worked together to steal booze from other bootleggers and sell it for 100% profit. When they weren't stealing liquor, they were hired on to protect shipments for exorbitant fees.
In 1931, Meyer helped Luciano to kill his boss, Joe Masseria, allowing him to seize the top position in the Masseria Crime Family. A short while later, he learned of a plot by Salvatore Maranzano to kill Luciano and the two took preemptive action, killing Maranzano first. After these obstacles were out of the way, Luciano went on to form the National Crime Syndicate, with a board of directors that included Meyer. Meyer made many friends in the circle and was an excellent negotiator who could always swing things his way.
Although Luciano held the top position in the organization, Meyer was not jealous. He preferred to maintain a lower profile and realized that assuming the top position would attract a lot of negative attention from rival criminals and the government. It was also necessary to make alliances with Italian gangs who could not tolerate a Jewish leader.
Throughout the 1930s, Meyer set up many gambling operations in Florida, New Orleans, and Cuba. Although many other criminals tried to muscle in on his territory, Meyer was always able to crush their attempts using his strong connections all over the United States.
When Bugsy Siegel came to him seeking money to build a casino in Las Vegas, Meyer invested large amounts of money and managed to convince other wealthy criminals to do the same. When the casino went over budget, several meetings were called to debate killing Siegel, but Meyer managed to hold them off for several years. Unfortunately, he was eventually forced to step back and allow the murder of Siegel in 1947, although his projects ended up being a huge success over the rest of the twentieth century.
Over the 50s and 60s, Meyer was heavily involved in drug smuggling and prostitution, although he also invested money in legitimate enterprises like golf courses and hotels. In 1970, the government finally began to catch up with him and prepared tax evasion charges. When Meyer learned that he would be prosecuted, he fled to Israel, where he attempted to gain public support to stay in Israel. He dumped millions of dollars into the Israeli economy, but was eventually forced to return to the United States in 1972, after a long battle in court.
In 1973, he underwent open heart surgery just before being put on trial for tax evasion. The government-appointed prosecution failed miserably and Meyer was acquitted of all charges. After Meyer walked free, the government turned its attention elsewhere. Over the next decade, he continued his leading role in the mafia, amassing a fortune of approximately four hundred million dollars.
On January 15, 1983, Meyer died of lung cancer.