Chester Gould, 84, the cartoonist who created the legendary detective, Dick Tracy, in 1931 and chronicled his adventures until retiring in 1977, died of congestive heart failure yesterday at his home in Woodstock, Ill.

Mr. Gould's cartoon strip told the story of perhaps America's most successful and hardest working cop.

Dick Tracy, at the height of the strip's popularity, appeared in more than 600 newspapers worldwide and was read by an estimated 100 million fans a day.

For 46 years, Mr. Gould, through the implaccable Dick Tracy, proved that crime did not pay.

He also illustrated that crime was painful, to hero and villain alike.

Over the years Tracy was slugged, pistol-whipped, tortured, burned, beaten, frozen, chloroformed, pressurized, depressurized, dynamited and dragged by a car at speeds approaching 60 mph.

The first 24 years on the job, he was shot 27 times. The number of times he suffered compound fractures and concussions seemed beyond the ability of modern man to compute.

Tracy's, and society's, enemies met fates as colorful as their names and appearances.

Doc Hump was killed by a rabid dog in 1934; the Brow, a spy with a creased forehead, was impaled on a flagpole; the Midget was scalded to death in a Turkish bath, and Flattop simply drowned.

If the Dick Tracy strip was successful it also was controversial. Before the skilled detective took to those mean streets, comic strips were "the funnies," and their characters subject only to slapstick injuries.

Dick Tracy was the first popular strip to depart from this format, seeming to delight in such graphic details of murder and mayhem as bullets passing through heads.

Yet if some criticized the crimebuster, most seemed to love him.

In addition to the strip, distributed by the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, fans saw Tracy in three serials in the 1930s from Republic Pictures, and several RKO features in the mid-1940s. A Dick Tracy television series was nationally syndicated by a New York station in the early 1960s.

As is well known, every great detective needs colorful sidekicks.

Over the years, Tracy's included Junior, chiefs Brandon and Pat Patton, detective Sam Catchem, and the policewoman Lizz.

Characters on the periphery of the action included B.O. Plenty and his equally colorful wife, Gravel Gertie. Ironically enough, the daughter of this union was the stunning Sparkle Plenty who was born with waist-length golden hair.

There also was Junior's wife, Moon Maid, an exotic visitor to our shores, and Tracy's millionaire inventor friend, Diet Smith.

Tracy also had a parade of enemies that included Redrum (murder spelled backwards); Flyface, a lawyer of elastic professional ethics, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Pruneface, B-B Eyes, Breathless Mahoney, Mumbles, Itchy, and the Mole.

Though the plots, characters, and morality of Dick Tracy may have seemed simplistic to many and sophomoric to some, Mr. Gould was proud of his work, which some critics saw as his reaction to Chicago's Depression-era gangsters.

In "The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy," published in 1980, Mr. Gould was quoted as saying: "I decided that if the police couldn't catch the gangsters, I'd create a fellow who would."

Chester Gould was born in Pawnee, Okla. His father was a printer on weekly newspapers. Beginning at the age of five, Mr. Gould entered and won art contests. He studied at Oklahoma State University and graduated from Northwestern University, but spent most of his time at both institutions submitting cartoons to newspapers.

Beginning in the early 1920s, he worked for several Chicago newspapers, and drew two strips that met with little success.

But his dream was to catch on with the Chicago Tribune and work for Joseph Medill Patterson.

In 1931, Mr. Gould was working for the old Chicago Daily News when he came up with an idea for the strip that became Dick Tracy.

In that first cartoon strip, Tracy was about to be interrogated while having his feet heated by the tried-and-true acetylene torch method. Daily News editors termed the strip "atrocious and impossible."

The strip next was sent to Patterson, then in New York with the Daily News, who responded with a telegram stating, "Your Plainclothes Tracy has possibilities."

On Oct. 4, 1931, Dick Tracy made his debut in a land racked by the Depression, Prohibition and gangsters.

A Mr. Trueheart, a corner grocer, was murdered by gangsters and Tracy pledged to get the old man's killers and wage war on crime.

Tracy solved the crime and got a girl: Tess Trueheart, the grocer's daughter, became his longtime heartthrob. Although Tracy proposed to her in 1932, the two did not marry until 1949.

Mr. Gould often stated that he was most proud of his strip'sstoryline, the obvious admiration it showed for law enforcement officials, and a degree of realism in police procedures that was introduced.

Among the gadgets that Mr. Gould had Tracy using were a "wristwatch radio," and later a "wristwatch television."

Mr. Gould never made a pretense of being a consummate artist. Working in his studio at his home, he was assisted by his brother Ray, who did lettering for the strips, and Rick Fletcher, who drew backgrounds.

Since 1977, the strip has been drawn by Dick Locher and Max Collins.

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Edna Gauger, of Woodstock, and a daughter, Jean O'Connell of Geneva, Ill.