gangster noun earlier than 1886

Stephen Goranson has provided verifiable evidence from 1884: an antedating of two years.

A gangster is somebody who is part of a criminal gang. Such gangs have existed for a very long time, but this word for an individual member is a relatively recent development, seemingly originating in the United States in the late 19th century.

The currently published OED entry for gangster has its earliest quotation from 1896; however, in the course of revising the entry, OED editors have already found evidence from a decade earlier, in 1886. This earlier use comes from a Chicago newspaper, which is perhaps unsurprising given that city’s historical association with organized crime:

1886 Chicago Tribune 31 Mar. 3/4 (headline) Aldermanic gangsters—half a dozen bad eggs.

However, this quotation probably represents the Tribune using a colloquial term that had been in use for some time before they printed it. Can you help us find earlier uses of gangster?

Posted by OED_Editor on 7 January 2013 9.25
Comments: 7

  • Stephen Goranson

    Headline: The Gang and Their Cranks; Article Type: News/Opinion

    Paper: Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, published as The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette;
    Date: 10-13-1884;

    Volume: XLV;

    Issue: 14;

    Page: 4;
    col. 5

    Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

     America’s Historical N.
    ….The gang rulers of Cincinnatti have created an edifice of fraud….They  have a candidate for the Presidency, and his name is Grover Cleveland, the creature of a combination of gangsters and cranks….

  • hb1616

    Not much earlier, but at least a little bit:
    Headline: The Games of the Gang. The Police Play into Their Hands-Their Latest Scheme; Article Type: News/Opinion  Paper: Summit County Beacon, published as The Summit County Beacon; Date: 11-18-1885; Volume: L; Issue: 16; Page: [5]; Location: Akron, Ohio

  • Bryn_OED

    Belmont Chronicle newspaper [Ohio], 2nd July 1885, p2

    “Belmont is one of the counties where the coal-oil gangsters may be expected to apply their boodle in bundles” 

  • hb1616

    There is another 1886 example that calls one Johnnie McLean an “arch-gangster”, which seems to confirm that most of the early quotations come from the political arena.

  • hb1616

    Headline: Still at It; Article Type: News/Opinion
    Paper: Critic-Record, published as The Washington Critic; Date: 08-24-1886; Issue: 5,628; Page: [2]; Location: Washington (DC), District of Columbia

  • hugo_oed

    Nothing earlier than Stephen Goranson’s Ohio 1884, but here’s some others from 1885 and 1886 which are also all from Ohio newspapers about corrupt political gangs.

    Belmont chronicle. (St. Clairsville, Ohio), November 19, 1885

    Of course a Republican Legislature will bow to the wishes of the agonizing [Cincinnati] Enquirer “Gangster.”

    (top of first column, fifth paragraph)

    Springfield globe-republic. (Springfield, Ohio), January 23, 1886

    Alexander’s Sands’s diplomacy is now needed at Columbus, to persuade the Cincinnati Gangsters to quit the senate without any bloody row.

    The Stark County Democrat. (Canton, Ohio), April 08, 1886

    By combining their strength they were able to defeat Mr Dresbach’s nomination for Constable, and although the man nominated in his place was a good man, the mere fact that the gangsters supported him in convention brought about his defeat.

    The Stark County Democrat. (Canton, Ohio), April 08, 1886

    The ticket was a good one and entirely satisfactory, and the new election prevented the Republican gangsters from getting in their usual work on the count.

    The Stark County Democrat. (Canton, Ohio), May 06, 1886

    So that the lobby and gangsters from Cincinnati, that were on hand, did not have a chance to see Bohemian Bob make an ass of himself.

    The News-Herald. (Hillsboro, Highland Co., Ohio), June 23, 1886

    The gang controlling the Cincinnati Enquirer and all the big and little gangsters scattered over the State are valiantly asserting that nothing will be done in the Payne bribery case, but that the Congressional committee will take it all as a joke and forever after hold its peace.

    The Ohio Democrat. (Logan, O. [Ohio]), October 30, 1886

    The Republican gangsters claim as a matter of coure, that $1,000,000 deficiency annually isn’t much for a rich and prosporous State like Ohio, especially when convicts from the penitentiary are employed to tell lies under oath about Democrats. — Cin. Enquirer.

    (this also has a description of some dirty tricks)

    Belmont chronicle. (St. Clairsville, Ohio), November 04, 1886

    It was somewhat of a tidal wave in Ohio, which engulfed the gangsters on Tuesday.

    The Stark County Democrat. (Canton, Ohio), November 04, 1886

    During the fervid colloquy General Robison was very profuse in his distribution of epithets, while I tried to calm him with the assurance that the time had gone by when Republican gangsters could defame Democrats with impunity;

    The News-Herald. (Hillsboro, Highland Co., Ohio), November 11, 1886

    The shameless use of money by the Democrats in some of the congressional districts outrivaled any of their previous attempts to debauch the elective franchise, but the result shows that the people of Ohio propose to stamp out all boodle methods and smash the gangsters and corruptionists, and that the people of this great commonwealth are in favor of honest elections aad aa honest and economical management of State affairs.