On This Day, May 4, 1886 – Chicago Police Gunfire Kills More Than A Dozen at Workers’ Rally

Haymarket Square Riot

1886 – At Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, a bomb is thrown at a squad of policemen attempting to break up a labor rally. The police responded with wild gunfire, killing several people in the crowd and injuring dozens more.

The demonstration, which drew some 1,500 Chicago workers, was organized by German-born labor radicals in protest of the killing of a striker by the Chicago police the day before. Midway into the rally, which had thinned out because of rain, a force of nearly 200 policemen arrived to disperse the workers. As the police advanced toward the 300 remaining protesters, an individual who was never positively identified threw a bomb at them. After the explosion and subsequent police gunfire, more than a dozen people lay dead or dying, and close to 100 were injured.

The Haymarket Square Riot set off a national wave of xenophobia, as hundreds of foreign-born radicals and labor leaders were rounded up in Chicago and elsewhere. A grand jury eventually indicted 31 suspected labor radicals in connection with the bombing, and eight men were convicted in a sensational and controversial trial. Judge Joseph E. Gary imposed the death sentence on seven of the men, and the eighth was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On November 11, 1887, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, August Spies, and Albert Parson were executed.

Of the three others sentenced to death, one committed suicide on the eve of his execution and the other two had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment by Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby. Governor Oglesby was reacting to widespread public questioning of their guilt, which later led his successor, Governor John P. Altgeld, to pardon fully the three activists still living in 1893.


1493 – Alexander VI divided non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal.

1626 – Dutch explorer Peter Minuit landed on Manhattan Island. Native Americans later sold the island (20,000 acres) for $24 in cloth and buttons.

1715 – A French manufacturer debuted the first folding umbrella.

1776 – Rhode Island declared its freedom from England two months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

1814 – Napoleon Bonaparte disembarked at Portoferraio on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean.

1863 – The Battle of Chancellorsville ended when the Union Army retreated.

1886 – Chichester Bell and Charles S. Tainter patented the gramophone. It was the first practical phonograph.

1905 – Belmont Park opened in suburban Long Island. It opened as the largest race track in the world.

1916 – Germany agreed to limit its submarine warfare after a demand from U.S. President Wilson.

1942 – The Battle of the Coral Sea commenced as American and Japanese carriers launched their attacks at each other.

1942 – The United States began food rationing.


freedom riders

1961 – Thirteen civil rights activists, dubbed “Freedom Riders,” began a bus trip through the South.


1970 – The Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on students during an anti-Vietnam war protest at Kent State University. Four students were killed and nine others were wounded.


1994 – Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat reached agreement in Cairo on the first stage of Palestinian self-rule.

The agreement was made in accordance with the Oslo Accords, signed in Washington, D.C.on September 13, 1993. This was the first direct, face-to-face agreement betweenIsrael and the Palestinians and it acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. It was also designed as a framework for future relations between the two parties.

2010 – Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” sold for $106.5 million.

Source: On-This-Day.com; History.com

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