The year was 1886 and Chicago, Illinois–at the time only fifty-three years old–had grown to become an important trade center. But as in other parts of the country, divisions between capitalists and labor coupled with economic instability to cause friction. Unions were pressing for an eight-hour workday.
On 3 May, following a national eight-hour walkout, violence broke out at a union rally, and clashes with police resulted in the deaths of two workers. Another outdoor meeting was planned for the following evening at the Haymarket on Randolph Street near Desplaines Street. The police and government officials were worried that the assembly would turn violent and as the meeting was winding down, police marched in and ordered the attendees to disperse.
A bomb was thrown into the gathered police, setting off a wave of gunfire in the panic that ensued. Seven policemen and at least four workers were killed in the Haymarket Riot, and more casualties would follow. Anarchists were rounded up and arrested. Eight men would be charged with conspiracy, although the actual bomb thrower was never discovered and it was never proven that the eight men had planned the bomb throwing. They were convicted on the grounds that their speeches and actions had incited the mob actions. Four of the men were hanged, another condemned to die committed suicide, one was given fifteen years in prison, and the other two–originally condemned to death–had their sentences commuted and were eventually pardoned in 1893. To learn more about the Haymarket Riot, the conditions that led to it, and the aftermath, visit the Chicago Historical Society’s online exhibition, The Dramas of Haymarket.
In Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, workers on the Canadian Pacific Railroad lost control of a fire set to clear some land when a sudden blast of wind blew up. The flames spread quickly consuming buildings and people in their path. In less than forty-five minutes, the two-month-old city was in ruins.Â
On 31 August, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Charlestown, South Carolina. The strong earthquake devastated the city leaving 90 percent of the buildings damaged or destroyed, and sixty people dead. Damage was reported within a radius of about one-hundred miles, and the quake was felt in thirty states and Ontario, Canada. Images of the damage can be found on the Earthquake Center at St. Louis University website.
Drought plagued the western U.S. that year, and the 22 July New York TimesÂ reported the following:
Fleeing From Drought
Fort Worth, Texas, July 21.–Throughout the day wagons loaded with families and their effects from the western counties have been streaming through the city. They are fleeing from the drought prevalent in the western counties and have come here in the quest of work. They give most gloomy accounts of the condition of crops and the lack of water for stock. It has not rained in some of these drought-stricken counties for over a year. Hundreds of families are abandoning their cattle and homes and going eastward to keep from starving to death. The situation is critical. Rain seldom falls in this drought-stricken district during August, and by that time there will be nothing left in the country.
If you were parched in Georgia, there was a new way to relieve your thirst. 1886 was the year that an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton, came up with the syrup that would be combined with carbonated water to become Coca-cola.
Image: Haymarket meeting announcement, “Attention Workingmen! Mass-Meeting To-Night at 7:30 o’clock, Haymarket, Randolph St., bet. Desplaines and Halsted,”Â from the Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000 at Ancestry. Click on the image to enlarge it.