Lager Beer Riot of 1855
The little publicized election of March 6, 1855 ushered in a new mayor named Levi Boone and his coalition of nativists, Know-Nothings, anti-Catholics, and temperance advocates to city government. Boone drew the ire of Chicago’s Irish and German community when he increased liquor licensing fees from $50 to $300. His “law and order” platform also included the tripling of the Chicago police force- without hiring any immigrants. When Boone ordered the enforcement of an ordinance that called for all taverns to be closed on Sunday, it was seen by many as a direct attack on the Irish and German community, who traditionally made alcohol part of their Sabbath-day leisure activities.
Boone made hundreds of arrests for violation of the Sunday temperance ordinance and soon the courts were clogged with cases. Judge Henry Rucker was given the job of presiding over a test case for the ordinance enforcement on April 21. Crowds gathered in front of the original Cook County Courthouse at Clark and Randolph to protest the ordinance. The police dispersed the crowd after arresting nine people. Later in the afternoon, protesters assembled again on Clark Street, north of the river, and began to march toward the courthouse. Mayor Boone ordered the Clark Street Bridge to be raised, thus halting most of the crowd until the police and local militia could arrive. When the bridge was lowered, a riot broke out that was quickly put down. One person was killed in the melee and 60 were arrested in what was later dubbed the “Lager Beer Riot of 1855.”
Boone later eased his enforcement of the Sunday closing laws and in March of 1856, he and his slate of candidates were voted out of office. The $50 licensing fee was restored and Chicago’s Irish and German communities remained politically active.
The Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies (CCWCS) is proud to present the Interactive Labor Trail, made possible by a generous grant from the Illinois Humanities Council. This on-line history resource builds on “The Labor Trail: Chicago's History of Working-Class Life and Struggle,” a map of 140 significant locations in the history of labor, migration, and working-class culture in Chicago and Illinois. The Labor Trail is the product of a joint effort to showcase the many generations of dramatic struggles and working-class life in the Chicago area's rich and turbulent past. The Trail's neighborhood tours invite you to get acquainted with the events, places, and people -- often unsung -- who have made the city what it is today. In addition, the statewide map is just a starting point for further exploration of Illinois' labor heritage. This Interactive Labor Trail expands the number of locations and provides a greater depth of information, while giving map users the chance to add their knowledge of locations and events in the Chicago area’s working-class history.
We invite all individuals, groups, and institutions interested in the labor and working-class history of Chicago, Cook County, the Calumet Region, and Illinois to contribute to the map. Users can add new sites, edit or build upon existing entries with additional text, photographs, primary sources, audio and video files, as well as links to related websites.
Easy-to-use instructions for adding to the on-line version of the map are available at www.labortrail.org.
More information on the Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies is available at: www.workingclassstudies.org
The Labor Trail: Chicago's History of Working-Class Life and Struggle
Leon Fink, University of Illinois at Chicago
Tobias Higbie, Newberry Library
Lisa Oppenheim, Chicago Metro History Education Center
Liesl Miller Orenic, Dominican University
Jeffrey Helgeson, University of Illinois at Chicago
Aaron Max Berkowitz, University of Illinois at Chicago; John H. Flores, University of Illinois at Chicago; Erik Gellman, Northwestern University; Dan Harper, University of Illinois at Chicago; Emily LaBarbera-Twarog, University of Illinois at Chicago
William Atwood and Melissa Palmer