Friday, May 1, 2020

The Film: “How They Welcome Strangers in Chicago” or "How They Rob Men in Chicago." (1900)

This short comedy from the New York Biograph Studio pokes fun at urban crime and manages to make a sly observation about the corruption in Chicago and other large cities as well.

A man dressed as a “swell”[1] walks onto a set representing a city street with stores in the background. He stops and turns to gawk at a beautiful woman who walks by smiling at him, and this allows a nearby thug to approach him from behind the “sap”[2] and hit him in the back of his head with a blackjack. 

Down he goes, and the mugger grabs what he can before running off seeing a policeman approaching. The policeman walks on set, noticing the unconscious man, he leans down, and rather than helping him, he removes another item from the victim and pockets it before leaving.

Chicago and New York, the two of the largest cities in the U.S in 1900, has had a long, friendly rivalry over their relative conditions and safety. At the time this movie was made, Chicago’s police force were untrained patrolmen who had to pay a share of their wages to political bosses. Many of the policemen supplemented their earnings through graft[3] and bribes.

The Biograph Company took advantage of the known situation in their rival city and produced this film. 

I admit the policeman’s actions made me laugh.

[runtime: 30 seconds]

[1] SWELL - a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way. Also known as a "Fop," a "Dandy."

[2] SAP - a foolish gullible person.

[3] GRAFT - The acquisition of gain (such as money) in dishonest or questionable ways.


  1. Such a wonderful piece of history. So glad it was saved.

  2. Very cool video and 120 years later it’s still relevant in a way.


The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is rated PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Comments not on the article's topic will be deleted, along with advertisements.