The Macaroni Riots of 1914

Dylan Hay, Contributor

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The Macaroni Riots
The Macaroni Riots began in August of 1914 and continued through September. This period of unrest happened in the Italian immigrant neighborhood known as Federal Hill and more specifically, on Atwells Avenue. Frank Ventrone, an Italian pasta wholesaler, was to blame for increased prices in food after the world war in Europe had begun. Ventrone was accused of gouging prices for pasta by selling American-made pasta with Italian labels which caused prices to go up by nearly fifty percent. Two investigations on the matter were called for by the mayor of Providence and the governor of Rhode Island, however the results were rather disappointing to the people of Federal Hill, with retailers claiming they were not responsible for the sudden rise in prices and shifting the blame to wholesalers and the start of World War I.

 

The people of the Italian Socialist Club were infuriated with Ventrone and planned for the first protest to be held on August 22, with speeches speaking out against the increase in food prices and nearly two thousand attendants, the protest did not break out into violence. However, the following weekend was a different story. Another protest was to be held on August 29 at the corner of Atwells and Dean streets, but this time speakers tried to enrage the crowd of nearly one thousand people in order to march down to Ventrone’s store to vandalize it, smashing windows and throwing products from the store onto the streets. Ventrone had caught wind of this before it happened and asked policemen to guard his store, however, they were greatly outnumbered and forced to call in backup, which ended with a violent conflict with the police that tried to break up the angry mob and a shootout following the conflict. The mob of nearly one thousand also ended up vandalizing other stores that were on Atwells and located near Ventrone’s store as well.

More brawling between the police and the residents of Federal Hill occurred the next day that lasted about four hours and left eighteen people injured. After these two incidents, the streets of Federal Hill were filled with policemen in an attempt to prevent any more confrontations with the civilians. After the riots, Ventrone met with the leaders of the protests and agreed to lower his prices. There was also a final protest on Labor Day and after the protest’s speeches were finished, about one hundred men made thier way down Atwells and began throwing stones at every building in sight. This riot was quickly suppressed within about half an hour because the police were anticipating more riots to happen, so they had undercover policemen in plain clothes in order to blend in with the crowd and they prepared more officers on standby just in case the officers on duty needed backup. The undercover policemen ended up calling in the officers on standby, after the riot started to begin, which put a swift end to the riot without any gunfire.