The Chicago City Council frequently gave franchises to private businesses to maintain public services. Many businesses bribed the aldermen to be awarded such contracts, a practice known as "boodling".
In 1895 the Gray Wolves awarded a franchise to the non-existent Ogden Gas Company to force the existing franchise holder to buy up the rights of Ogden Gas. This and similar schemes resulted in the formation of the Municipal Voters League in 1896 to throw the the Gray Wolves aldermen off the council.
Lincoln Steffens, a muck-raking reporter from McClure's Magazine was the first to describe these aldermen as gray wolves "for the color of their hair and the rapacious cunning and greed of their natures."