One of the most famous federal agents in the history of law enforcement, Eliot Ness is best known for his efforts to destroy Al Capone's gangster empire in the city of Chicago. In 1927, Ness joined the Bureau of Prohibition, assembling a squad of ruthless and incorruptible federal agents known as "The Untouchables" to combat Capone's multimillion-dollar breweries. Against all odds, Ness and his Untouchables broke the back of organized crime in Chicago, a city that was dubbed the "Crime Capital of the World." In 1933, after the Prohibition Act had been repealed, this unit of special agents was disbanded, and Ness eventually moved his career to Ohio, where he became the Cleveland Public Safety Director. Later, during WWII, Ness served in the Federal Social Protection Program, traveling to military bases across the country in a law enforcement and public education capacity. He eventually entered the business world, where he ended his professional career as president of the Guaranty Paper Company, a subsidiary of North Ridge Industrial Corporation. Many years later, his exploits became common knowledge through Oscar Fraley’s novel The Untouchables and the subsequent TV series and movies by the same name.
As Al Capone was beginning to build his name, Ness graduated from Christian Fenger High School (located on the south side of Chicago) and enrolled at the University of Chicago. A typical undergrad of the time, Ness attended football games, liked to read Sherlock Holmes during his lunch hour, and joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. In 1925, he earned his bachelor degree with a major in political science, commerce, and business administration, graduating in the top third of his class at the University of Chicago.
In 1929—four years after graduating—Ness returned to his alma mater for some graduate course work with the criminologist August Vollmer, who was widely viewed as the “father of modern law enforcement." By all accounts, this allowed Ness to greatly sharpen his law enforcement skills. Later, in 1935, when Ness accepted the position of Public Safety Director for the city of Cleveland, he wrote Vollmer, “I feel, and for many years have felt, that my connection with you at the University of Chicago was one of the most beneficial things in my life.”
Notably, during Ness's law enforcement career, the press coverage often mentioned his degree, which was a significant accomplishment at a time when fewer than 5% of Americans had a college education. Also, his UChicago degree served to contrast Ness with Capone, who only had a sixth-grade education.