Melvin Purvis was born in Timmonsville South Carolina in 1903 and before his 30th birthday had become special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field office. Purvis was American law enforcement’s answer to the growing threat of gangsters and organized crime.
During his career with the FBI he captured, killed, and brought to justice the most notorious criminals of his day, including “Machine Gun” Kelly, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, “Babyface” Nelson, and the infamous John Dillinger. Because of this, Melvin Purvis entered the public spotlight like a celebrity and quickly became and icon in 1930′s pop culture.
“G-Man” radio programs, pulp novels, product endorsements, and comic books all capitalized on, and contributed to Purvis’ popularity. In recent years, he has been the subject of a best-selling biography, an ETV documentary and was portrayed in the movie Public Enemies by actor Christian Bale.
We are so far removed from the 1930′s that it is hard for us today to sense of the magnitude of the Melvin Purvis’ mania. His celebrity status could be likened to our modern day professional athletes, pop musicians, or movies stars. Comics & radio programs retold the stories of his legendary raids and captures of the most infamous criminals of the Depression-era. Companies sought him out to endorse their products. He served as a spokesman for Gillette safety razors, Dodge automobiles, & Post Toasties Cereal. Parker Brothers even made a board game based on the events of his time with the FBI.
For more information regarding Melvin Purvis’ life, check out Alston Purvis book The Vendetta. You can also view several of the object pictured above on display during regular museum visiting hours.