The official glossy lifestyle magazine of the Chicago Police Department was published between 1921 and ’23.

The covers of Main 13, the official magazine of the Chicago Police Department published between 1921 and 1923, seem to allude, at first glance, to simpler times for Chicago cops. The glossy magazine ran winsome illustrations of a traffic cop escorting smiling, well-dressed children across the street, a patrolman supervising a game of marbles, and a mounted officer delivering a hot meal to a widow on Christmas. Only the cover of the November 1922 issue depicting a copper shooting into dark alley hints at the dangers police faced nearly 100 years ago.


By almost all measures, Chicago was a safer city then than it is today—except for cops. With just 5,125 officers, CPD was less than half the size it is today, while the city’s population in 1920 was 2.7 million people, roughly what it is now. The department faced a surge of crime after World War I: between 1919 and 1920, 22 Chicago police officers lost their lives to gunfire, including 12 who were killed by armed robbers and burglars. In contrast, 22 officers have been killed in the line of duty between 1994 and today.

Although the press was concerned about the meager benefits given to the families of officers who died in the line of duty, the service and life stories of some fallen officers sometimes merited just a handful of sentences in Chicago newspapers. The Chicago Police Department was “more corrupt than ever in its history,” state’s attorney Maclay Hoyne complained in September 1920.

Named for the phrase a caller would give a telephone operator in order to be connected to the police, Main 13 was one inexpensive means for police commissioner Charles C. Fitzmorris—a former newspaperman and City Hall insider—to lift the morale of a besieged department and to boost its public image.

“Chicago’s police force is in reality one big family,” one editorial explained, “but it needs the humanizing influence of a magazine to make it acquainted with itself.”

Supported generously by display advertisements, the magazine was sent for free to the families of officers, as well as to businessmen in and around the city, so they might “read what Chicago’s police are accomplishing.”

The magazine was run out of City Hall by Jack Lait, a renowned Chicago newspaperman who later came to coauthor the City Confidential guides, and Fred Drake, the business manager of Good Housekeeping. Each issue included a “Home Beat” section for “the women of policemen’s families,” featuring recycled home economics articles on such topics as delicious but ugly vegetables and the ways that the French use leftovers. Other features—on subjects including how to best state a case in court, how to care for police horses, and how to best use tear gas—had the cheery, instructional feel of Good Housekeeping.

Chicago being Chicago, the mayor occasionally intruded in the magazine. In a meandering piece in the inaugural issue, Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson reflected on the lessons he learned as captain of the 1896 Chicago Athletic Football team; mused on the reasons why citizens love firefighters but sometimes dislike cops; lectured on how tourist dollars are important to the tax base that pays police; and suggested that anyone suspected of killing a cop should be shot down rather than delivered to court.

“This is not revenge, but for the protection of every man who travels [a] beat, as well as a square deal to the man who lost his life,” opined the notoriously crooked Thompson.

Rank-and-file officers contributed the occasional cartoon or sentimental poem, but the vast bulk of the magazine was crafted by journalists and businessmen, many of whom reassured readers of the importance of the police to the city. The magazine provided example after example of the ingenuity, tenacity, and bravery of the city’s officers. Patrolman Jeremiah Bowers, for example, was shot point-blank three times in a pool hall. Unscathed, Bowers managed to subdue and arrest his assailant.

“His escape from death was the most miraculous since Christ was on earth,” exclaimed Bowers’s captain, noting that the “bravest white man” in the ranks could not do more than what the black patrolman had done. (Unfortunately, the condescending profile was framed as the story to demonstrate the “good humor and docility and blind bravery and sometimes devilry” of blacks.)

The rest of the public, the magazine frequently lamented, didn’t understand the hardships of being an officer. Tribune reporter John Kelley, a regular contributor, shared his wisdom from more than three decades on the crime beat, reflecting on the “horse sense” required to be a good police operator, the advantages and risks in using “stool pigeons,” and the experiences of cops who adopted abandoned babies. A topic that appears to have been off-limits was the issue of how police were compensated for the risks they took. The annual salary for rookie officers in 1921 was $1,640, an amount that today has about the same buying power as $23,000.

The magazine ended its run shortly after Thompson’s term as mayor ended; the new chief of police feared that its advertisements could become a source of corruption. Although crime had fallen during the Fitzmorris regime, his attempt to project the image of the Chicago Police Department as a wholesome if not incorruptible police force would be less successful; shortly thereafter, Chicago entered a phase of gangland crime from which the city’s reputation has never fully recovered.