This famous drawing is an artist's conception of May 4, 1886, in Chicago's Haymarket Square.
On May 1, 1886, thousands of U.S. workers held protests, calling for an eight-hour workday. Many workers at that time labored 12 to 14 hours a day. Workers across the country rallied to the cry, "Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for what we will."
On May 2, 1886, most workers returned to their jobs. In Chicago, the McCormick Reaper Works, an agricultural machine manufacturer, had "locked out" its workers. That meant it had refused employment to its workers who were protesting and organizing unions. The company hired replacement workers, which those who were locked out called "scabs." As the replacement workers were leaving the plant on May 2, locked out workers and their supporters gathered outside the plant. The Chicago police suddenly appeared and opened fire, killing two people.
A protest meeting was called for May 4, 1886, in Chicago's Haymarket Square, at the intersection of Randolph and DesPlaines Avenues. The protest organizers considered themselves "anarchists." They believed that the best thing workers could do would be to own all the means of production -- factories, workshops, railroads -- and share the profits from those enterprises amongst themselves. They often confronted the police and some of them preached a violent overthrow of the American capitalist economic system. A crowd assembled in Haymarket Square that evening, but it was a few thousand, not the tens of thousands protest organizers hoped for. Chicago's Mayor Carter Harrison, was present. As a rain began to fall and the rally was close to ending, he went to the near by DesPlaines Street Police Station, and asked the police to disperse, as the rally was harmless.
Instead, the police captain disobeyed the mayor, and the police marched in military formation on the rally. They demanded it end. As the confrontation brewed, someone, unknown to this day, threw a dynamite bomb from a nearby alley, landing in the police ranks. One police officer, Matthias Degan, was killed on the spot, other police and protesters were killed by gunfire in the resulting melee (it should be noted that the workers were not shooting).
Hundreds were arrested, but eight men were eventually charged with the bomb throwing. There was only direct evidence to implicate one of the arrested, Louis Lingg, in the possible manufacture of dynamite bombs, though the police could never prove that Lingg actually made the bomb or threw it. The other seven accused of the crime were implicated by their words, writings and speeches, not their actions.
After a trial that many considered unfair, five of the men, Albert Parsons, and German immigrants Louis Lingg, August Spies, Adolph Fisher and George Engel were sentenced to die by hanging. On November 11, 1887, they were led to the gallows as a group. Lingg died mysteriously in his jail cell the night before, biting into a dynamite cap. This could have been a suicide or the cap could have been placed in his food by police.
English immigrant Samuel Fielden and German immigrant Michael Schwab were sentenced to life in prison; another German immigrant, Oscar Neebe, was sentenced to 15 years.
In 1893 another German immigrant, Illinois Governor Peter Altgeld, pardoned the three still imprisoned men and declared the trial a travesty of judge. This action made Altgeld very unpopular and he was not re-elected. The Haymarket took on global significance, and workers around the world celebrate on May 1, in honor of the Haymarket martyrs.