The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era


Boodle over the Border: Embezzlement and the Crisis of International Mobility, 1880–1890

Katherine Untermana1 c1

a1 Texas A&M University–College Station


Roughly 2,000 American fugitives fled to Canada in the 1880s—mostly clerks, cashiers, and bank tellers charged with embezzlement. This article argues that these “boodlers,” as they were popularly called, were symptomatic of a late-nineteenth-century crisis of mobility. Embezzlement was a function of new kinds of mobility: migration to cities, the rise of an upwardly mobile middle class, the fungibility of greenbacks, and the growth of international transportation networks. The boodlers were some of the earliest white-collar criminals. By focusing on their unexplored story, this article contributes to the growing literature that presents the clerk as an important figure in nineteenth-century labor history. Still, the boodlers also had a more unexpected impact on the evolution of the United States' international borders, both in the popular imagination and in actual surveillance and law enforcement techniques. Through the figure of the boodler, this article examines the links between the growth of capitalism and the development of the United States–Canada border in the late nineteenth century.

(Online publication April 16 2012)



Katherine Unterman is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University. A specialist in American legal and foreign relations history, she received her PhD from Yale University in 2011. Her current book project, “Nowhere to Hide: International Fugitives and American Power, 1880–1915,” examines cross-border fugitives and international manhunts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.