moment of its incorporation as a city in 1837, Chicago has been
systematically seduced, looted, and pilloried by an aeonian
horde of venal politicians, mercenary businessmen, and sadistic
gangsters. Nothing has changed in more than 130 years"
Chicago was a perfect city
for the development of large-scale organized criminal activity.
In fact, the origination of the gangster in Chicago is no surprise
given the corrupt and lawless environment from which they arose.
A picture of
Chicago's skyline, taken in 1929 (Citation).
During the 1920's and
early 1930's, Chicago experienced a revolution in the style and
magnitude of the organized crime that it supported. This was due
to a vast array of reasons, most of which involve the environment
and setting in which this took place. The exponential growth of
the city's population that occurred during this time period weakened
the ability of Chicago's governmental system to operate effectively.
Immigrants, along with people from other regions of the United States,
were attracted to the industrial and commercialized Chicago in hope
of attaining job opportunities that would improve their lives. Carrie
of Dreiser's Sister Carrie serves as an example of the latter group.
Chicago's appeal induced a large influx of working class people,
resulting in the spread of the city boundaries, and causing population
to leak into the growing suburbs. These increases in the city's
numbers and span were not matched by an increase in the number of
police officers, which rendered Chicago's law enforcement agencies
"entirely inadequate" (Landesco,
of Chicago has been too rapid for the proper coordination and
formulation of its governmental structure" (Landesco,
Another reason why organized
crime matured in Chicago was because the city's children were often
exposed to criminal activity at young ages. Early experiences of
law-breaking among childhood gangs often molded the mentalities
of participating Chicagoan youth in a way that prepared them for
higher levels of professional criminal activity. Thus "the
gangster is a product of his surroundings in the same way in which
the good citizen is a product of his environment" (Landesco,
221). . Childhood gangs of poorer Chicago neighborhoods, such
as those depicted in Farrell's Studs Lonigan, served as the
first 'school ground' and selective screening step in the matriculation
of a petty law-breaker into professional gangsterhood. Therefore,
in the "less favored areas [in Chicago], in these abiding places
of the transients and of the "down and outs", and of the
newly arrived immigrant, are to be found the breeding places of
the gangs, the Mafia, and of the professional criminal" (Landesco,
of crime is the problem of youth. Every criminal career has
Another reason why Chicago
was nurturing of the development of organized crime and the gangster
- a form of hustler, or one who was "out to make a fast buck
off whoever was standing nearest" (Algren
1951, 16) - is that the hustling nature of the city was present
even before it was established. This is a quality that is innate
to the city, which Algren acknowledges when he states,
"Yankee and voyager,
the Irish and the Dutch, Indian traders and Indian agents, halfbreed
and quarterbreed and no breed at all, in the final counting they
were all of a single breed. They all had hustler's blood. And kept
the old Sauganash in a hustler's uproar"
(Algren 1951, 16) .
Even the earliest settlers
and the natives who preceded them were hustlers, as were many Chicagoans
during the early 1900s: the period when organized crime was developing
and on the rise. Algren even claims that the cities founders, which
typically are highly regarded figures, were nothing but hustlers
(Algren 1951, 16).
Criminal activity, which is a form of hustling, was such a popular
'occupation' because it was a means to make an easy living without
having to work legitimate jobs. For those with professional skills
such as doctors, businessmen, and lawyers, working legitimate jobs
was not problematic, for these occupations typically paid well enough
to avoid financial troubles. However, legitimate work often would
not suffice for those belonging to the lower and working classes
in Chicago, for many unskilled labor positions hardly paid enough
for these people to sustain life. The troubles of those of the lower
social strata were only amplified by The Depression. Therefore,
hustling and resorting to crime provided these people with an alternate
outlet to make ends meet. For example, "where the choice of
a young man is between a low paid job as an unskilled laborer and
good wages for driving a beer truck", the latter occupation
will often seem more appealing, despite its illegal nature.
picture of Chicago, revealing how industrialized the city
was even by the year 1925. By looking at this picture, you
can just imagine how many working class jobs the city entertained
Studs Lonigan is an example
of one who is lured by the desire to make an easy living. He is
a boy in a lower class family whose job as a painter is failing
him due to the lack of work caused by The Depression. After being
exposed to the "lavish display of the nouveau riche of the
underworld" (Landesco, 210) as
represented in the movie "Doomed Victory", Studs wishes
to leave his painting career and become a gangster: "this was
the real ticket" to get "the dough
Another major influence
contributing to the explosion in the volume, success, and level
of complexity of organized crime in Chicago during the early 1900s
was the initiation of The Volstead Act, which led to the enforcement
of Prohibition in 1920 in the form
of the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
of organized crime was aided also by the fact that
Chicago was a city where politicians and police were crooked,
and eager to accept bribes. This corruption in the government
system allowed organized crime to grow as it did, for any
officials that stood in the way of the criminal activities
could often be 'bought out'. The temptation of bribery and
the associated corruption innate to the government system
at the time were taken advantage of by gangs of organized
criminals to avoid arrest and prosecution. During the early
1900s, Chicago was the "easiest joint in the country
in which to jump bond, as well as for staying out of jail
altogether. The price commonly being whatever you have in
your wallet. If the wallet is empty a fifty-cent cigar will
usually do it" (Algren 1951,
17). Polticians could also be bought through bribery,
which created the possibility for gangsters to team up with
them to gain immunity from the law.
pig cartoon representing the government's role in the rise
of organized crime (Bentley
Historical Library). This
picture depicts a scene where a city official, in this case
a prosecutor, is ignoring hundreds of 'blind pig' complaints.
This may be due to a lack of motivation, or from motivation
in the form of a handome bribe to overlook the complaints.
('Blind pig' is a slang term for a speakeasy or a bar).
gangster does not exaggerate when he says that he has never
seen a straight election" (Landesco, 213).
Some gangs amassed such
unbelievable amounts of money from activities such as alcohol production
and bootlegging that they could afford to buy off most of the police
officers and politicians in the districts of the city in which they
conducted their illegal activities. See the page entitled 'Introduction
to Organized Crime in Chicago' for further discussion.
Considering the context in which organized crime grew - namely the
setting of Chicago, its government system, layout, difficulty of
attaining a decent job, hard times of The Depression, and Prohibition
- it almost seems inevitable for this growth to have occurred. The
following is a passage that concisely summarizes this context that
made the origination and proliferation of organized crime unavoidable
in the city of Chicago during the early 1900s:
would be foolish to expect such an environment to produce a
moral and law-abiding youth, possessing the right theories of
life and of success, when everywhere around him he sees official
lawlessness and vice in the saddle; when he sees his hardworking
father laboring for a few dollars a day and accumulating nothing,
and the bootlegger and the gambler riding in limousines"
(Landesco, 7) .