May 4, 1886 | Haymarket Riot


“They worshipped at the shrine of force; wrote it and preached it; until finally they were overpowered by their own Gods and slain in their own temple.”                   
-Union organizer George Schilling on the anarchist movement

On the evening of May 4, approximately 175 Chicago police officers attempted to break up a labor protest meeting in Haymarket Square when someone threw a bomb of dynamite into their ranks. The explosion and subsequent panic resulted in the death of eight police officers and four civilians. The bomb thrower was never identified.

The tragic events of Haymarket had been building for a long time. Chicago was the center for labor organization and unrest, as well as the nexus for the more radical offshoots of the labor unions, who felt violence was the only means to reform. On May 1, 1886, an estimated 80,000 workers marched down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue for a May Day rally supporting an eight hour working day. On May 3, the Chicago Police Department dispersed picketers at the McCormick Reaper Plant and some picketers were killed in the process. The May 4th rally at Haymarket Square was a planned protest for their deaths.

Eight men who had given speeches at Haymarket, or who had helped organize the rally were convicted of the bombing. Four of them were subsequently executed. None of the men were ever shown to have had any connection to the bombing itself, but all had used violent rhetoric.  Ultimately, fear of immigrants and radicals overshadowed the unions’ push for better labor conditions and enforcement of child labor laws, and instead set the stage for ongoing confrontations between unions and the law.