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Security History: The Haymarket Affair

​​​In this new series from Security Management, we will examine historical events and people throughout the year that influenced the development of the security profession. 

On 4 May 1886, a peaceful labor rally near Chicago's Haymarket Square took place in support of workers striking for an eight-hour workday. It turned into a riot after someone threw a bomb (some accounts say a stick of dynamite) at police. At least eight people died as a result of the violence that day, including policemen killed in the explosion and civilians who were shot and trampled. More than a hundred people were injured.

Despite a lack of evidence against them, eight radical labor activists (anarchists) were convicted in connection with the bombing, and four were hanged. The person who actually threw the bomb was never found.

The furor that condemned those eight men was fueled largely by a fear of foreign anarchists—and their influence in labor disputes—at the time. Anarchists believed in no organized government and "the propaganda of the deed." They perpetrated numerous acts of terror for 40 to 50 years, including the assassinations of several European heads of state. An anarchist sympathizer, a lone wolf, killed U.S. President William McKinley in 1901. As their reach was international and spanned several decades, one can draw some parallel between them and the Islamic fundamentalist terror of the present.

The Haymarket Affair led to the construction of Ft. Sheridan nearby as wealthy industrialists donated the land to the U.S. Army. Leaders in Chicago at the time wanted the army nearby to intervene in future civil disturbances connected with the labor movement.

The event inspired new fervor for the labor movement, and the Haymarket Affair has long been associated with May Day. Last week, May Day rallies were held all over the world. Most of them ended peacefully, but some sparked violence and arrests.

Read more about The Haymarket Affair here


Article by Chris Hertig, CPP, CPOI (Certified Protection Officer Instructor), who writes on various topics such as security industry history, slave hunters, and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Hertig is on the ASIS Professional Development Council and the International Foundation for Protection Officers Board of Directors.