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Haymarket Square: A Clash Between Police & Workers for an Eight-Hour Workday


A mounted Chicago police parade.  Postcard publication details are unknown. 

Protests that turned violent at Haymarket Square near Des Plaines and Randolph Streets in 1886 helped make Chicago the center of the eight-hour workday movement.  On May 1, about 35,000 workers walked off their jobs to join a protest in downtown Chicago for a shorter work day. Government and police officials, however, began harassing protesters, who they referred to as unionists, reformers, socialists and anarchists. 

It’s no surprise that on May 3, a long-lasting strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company erupted into violence, leading to police clashes and a shooting by police that left two protesters dead. Some workers called for “revenge.” The following day would go down in history as the day of the Haymarket Riot.

During the evening hours of May 4, someone hurled a bomb at police, which is likely the cause that prompted police to begin shooting wildly at protestors. Sixty police officers were injured and eight died. An undetermined number of protesters were also killed or wounded, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Carter H. Harrison was shocked and angered by the incident and quickly banned all meetings and processions in the city. But it proved almost impossible to halt protesting and picketing in Chicago.

Horse-drawn buggies at the Haymarket site. Postcard published by P. Schmidt of Chicago and printed in Germany.

City and law enforcement officials, however, wanted someone to blame for the incident. Conspiracy theories against foreign-born people seemed to be their main approach. Police then arrested hundreds of people, even though the identity of the person who threw the bomb was never determined.

The city indicted eight anarchists and tried them for murder. Once a lack of evidence that any of the individuals were involved with the bombing was established, prosecutors then focused on the activists' writings and speeches. Seven individuals were sentenced to death, but two were commuted by the Illinois governor. Four others were hung in Cook County jail, and one committed suicide.

Thousands of upset people turned out for the funeral procession of the five men. The governor gave the remaining living individuals absolute pardon, citing the lack of evidence. This incident further inspired the movement for a shorter workday. People around the world now celebrate May 1 (May Day) as a workers’ holiday.

A memorial for the police officers killed during the riot was later erected at Haymarket Square. Postcard published by Curt Teich Co., Chicago. 

A statue honoring the dead and injured police oficers was erected at Haymarket Square after the incident. The statue was toppled by student protestors in the late 1960s, and it was relocated to the Chicago Police Academy. Today, another small memorial stands on the sidewalk at the site of the riot, which is now a typical West Loop street with office buildings, lofts and parking lots. This site, however, is anything but typical for those who enjoy working a shorter day. 

There are several postcards of Haymarket Square. Most of the postcards show dry goods being loaded onto horse-drawn buggies. A few postcards show the police memorial before it was relocated.

Haymarket Square in Chicago. Postcard publisher is unknown. 


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