"From the 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" (Demaris, 3).

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, 5).


"The growth of Chicago has been too rapid for the proper coordination and formulation of its governmental structure" (Landesco, 4).

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, 6). .


"The problem of crime is the problem of youth. Every criminal career has its beginning" (Landesco, 6).


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.

A 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 (Citation).

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 … rolling in" (Farrell, 541).


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.

The proliferation 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.




Blind 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).

"The 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:

"It 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) .


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