Anton Cermak was born in Kladno, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic), on 9th May, 1873. The following year his parents emigrated to the United States. After three years at school Cermak joined his father as a coal miner in Braidwood, Illinois.
In 1890 Cermak moved to Chicago and found work on the railways before starting his own haulage business in the city. Cermak became active in the Democratic Party and in 1902 was elected to the state legislature. Seven years later Cermak became a Chicago City Council alderman. Cermak was able to use his inside knowledge of proposed government land purchase to speculate on real estate. Cermak became extremely wealthy and soon became leader of the party in the city.
In 1931 Cermak challenged Bill Thompson, the Republican mayor of Chicago. Cermak accused Thompson of being under the control of Al Capone and other gangsters in the city. He campaigned for social reform and an end to prohibition. On 7th April, 1931, Cermak defeated Thompson, by 200,000 votes.
In 1933 Cermak helped Franklin D. Roosevelt gain the majority of voters in Chicago during the 1932 presidential election. On 15th February, 1933, Cermak appeared with Roosevelt at Belmont Park in Miami. An Italian immigrant, Guiseppe Zangara, fired five shots at Roosevelt. They all missed the president but one hit Cermak in the stomach. On the way to the hospital Cermak told Roosevelt, "I'm glad it was me and not you, Mr. President."
Anton Cermak died three weeks later on 8th March, 1933. Guiseppe Zangara claimed in court he was trying to kill Roosevelt but some political commentators such as Walter Winchell believed that Cermak was the real target. It was argued that Al Capone or Bill Thompson had hired Zangara to assassinate Cermak. However, a FBI investigation concluded that Zangara was a mentally deranged loner and was not involved in any conspiracy to kill Cermak.