Chicago has a deep problem with gangs these days and the rising violence over the years has given the city international attention as “Chiraq.” But gangs have been in the Windy City for far longer than one might expect. Sure, the bootlegging mob of Al Capone is legendary but at the same time, hundreds of smaller gangs were competing for territory. The vintage map you see above and below was published in 1927 and it outlines the home bases and hideouts of 1300 gangs in Chi during the prohibition era.
The map was created over a period of three years of research by a sociologist named Frederic Thrasher. In 1927, Thrasher published the findings of his investigations in a book called Chicago’s Gangland. The map was in the very back of the book which he hoped would educate people on the “fissures and breaks in the structure of social organization,” in Chicago.
“No two gangs are just alike,” Thrasher wrote. “Some are good; some are bad; and each has to be considered to its own merits.” His research found that as second generation immigrants came to town to get in on the booming economy, they sought to protect their own through various factions.
“Gangland is a phenomenon of human ecology,” He wrote. “The gang develops as one manifestation of the economic, moral, and cultural frontier which makes the interstice.”
Today, Chicago police say that the city has “59 gangs with 625 factions” and they are mostly focused on the south and west sides. You can see a map of current territory here.
Compare that to the fascinating map from ’27 below: