While American political development scholars tend to focus on national or state-level politics, late nineteenth-century cities provided the lion's share of services: clean water, paved and lighted streets, and sanitation. How did cities innovate and build municipal capacity to do these things? We answer this question by looking at municipal responses to the garbage problem. As cities grew and trash piled up in the 1890s, cities explored ways to effectively collect the garbage. A government requires not just resources, but also the ability to marshal those resources. Corruption could provide such abilities. Looking at four corrupt cities—Pittsburgh, Charleston, New Orleans, and St. Louis—we consider whether corruption, and what type of corruption, fostered innovation and capacity. We compare these corrupt cities with a shadow study of the reformist government of Columbus. We found the following: (1) The logic of corruption is the most important factor to explain why municipal governments chose particular garbage strategies. Corrupt regimes chose garbage collection and disposal strategies that would benefit themselves—but these varied depending on what type of corruption dominated a city. (2) Corruption sometimes promoted innovation and capacity, but at other times, corruption hindered them. For better or worse, cities ruled by corruption gained the capacity that these informal regimes held.