the Chicago typewriter – February 14, 1929

Today, your computer keyboard uses the QWERTY system, (the first six letters on the top line of your keyboard). It is a carryover from the mechanical typewriter that most of us older folk remember.  The first commercially successful typewriter was invented and patented by four Milwaukee Wisconsin men in 1868 . It was produced by E. Remington and sons.

The “Chicago typewriter” however was quite different, something never needing paper or an ink ribbon . Its use on Valentine’s Day February 14, 1929 is legend. It. Like a mechanical typewriter, it was well used to send a message. The Chicago typewriter is a slang term for the Thompson submachine gun which from a distance sound somewhat like a typewriter.

The Chicago typewriter, actually a lethal weapon, was preferred by gangsters and the law men who pursued them. Gangsters found it to be a necessity during prohibition,  protecting their operations of bank robberies, bootlegging, speakeasies and rum running. It has been described as “the gun that made the 20s roar!” Federal law enforcement was it at a distinct disadvantage because J Edgar Hoover did not issue a Thompson submachine gun until 1935.

While there are no pictures of Al Capone holding a Chicago typewriter, he allegedly was the mastermind behind the massacre of seven men at 10:30 in the morning, in the garage at 2122 North Clark St.

Four men, two dressed in police uniforms arrived in a Cadillac sedan in front of the garage. Two of them opened fire with their “Chicago typewriters”, one containing a 20 round magazine and the other a 50 round drum.

Also known as a “Tommy gun”, a “trench broom” or a “Chicago piano”, the deadly weapon was invented by United States Army Brig. Gen. John T Thompson in 1918. It was originally designed for warfare during World War I, but came on the scene a bit late. Notorious figures during prohibition found it to be their signature weapon, but was also used by local law enforcement.

The victims of the February 14 St. Valentine’s Day massacre included five members of George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side gang. Bugs himself was not there because he was late leaving his Parkway hotel apartment. One victim, Frank Gusenberg was taken alive the hospital with 14 bullet wounds. When police asked him who did it, he supposedly replied, “no one shot me.” He died three hours later.

Al Capone was quietly at his Florida home while all this happened, but was assumed to have orchestrated the massacre. Among other things, he was more than a bit upset with the North Side gang’s hijacking of his expensive whiskey that he was smuggling from Canada into the United States.

The warehouse, the SMC Cartage Company, at 2122 North Clark St. was actually a front for the North Side gang’s liquor distribution in the neighborhood. The building, well after the massacre, was used as an antique furniture storage business but soon went out of business. The building was demolished in 1967. The site is now just south of the Margaret Day Blake Apartments built by the Chicago Housing Authority A guy by the name of George Patey purchased over 400 bricks from the rear wall of the building. After several failed attempts at promoting them, the Mob Museum in Las Vegas acquired some of the bricks, and there is supposedly one on display in the Gerald R Ford Museum in Grand Rapids Michigan..

Al Capone died in Florida on January 25, 1947 at the age of only 48 years of syphilis. He had served time at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta Georgia and at Alcatraz. Al is buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois along with many other infamous characters of the prohibition era. Many of them are buried surrounding the Bishop’s Circle. The Capone family plot is located quietly near a cemetery fence.

George Clarence “bugs” Moran, Al Capone’s rival was survived the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, died on February 25, 1957 in his first few months of a 10 year sentence at Leavenworth federal penitentiary for a 1945 bank robbery. He is buried within the United States penitentiary Cemetery at Leavenworth,  Kansas.

And so ends the story of the infamous Chicago typewriter. Thankfully you won’t find one in a thrift store. And for my much younger readers, you may want to ask your parents what a typewriter was, the predecessor to all our computer keyboards.

Feel free to add your comments below or email me at

And lastly,  I wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: