Battle of the Viaduct


The "Great Upheaval" of 1877, which began in Baltimore, Maryland, and Martinsburg, West Virginia, as a railroad strike against wage cuts during a severe economic depression, quickly spread west and to other industries. On July 23, workers at the yards of Michigan Central Railroad (Randolph and Michigan Ave) walked off the job, beginning a virtual general strike. Streetcars, ships, and factories were quiet on July 24. Tensions peaked in Chicago on July 25 and 26, when German Furniture Workers clashed with police at Turner Hall near Halsted and Roosevelt Road (see accompanying illustration). Through the rest of that afternoon and night, workers from the surrounding area battled police officers, federal troops, and state militia. Workers and police officers squared off at the 16th Street Viaduct. The less-than-sympathetic New York Times described the scene: By 10:30 in the morning, the New York Times reported, "there were not less than 10,000 men present. The undecided peacefulness of the horde had vanished. Their numbers seemed to inspire them with the valor of savages. They were bent on violence and hesitated at nothing. The north approach of the Halsted Street Viaduct" -- the point from which the accompanying picture was taken -- "and the structure itself was blocked with a mass of rioters." The Times described charges and counter-charges with rocks flying from the workers' side and police swinging clubs and firing rifles. By the end of the next day, at least 30 workers were dead and 100 wounded; no police officers or soldiers died, but at least 13 were seriously wounded. Employers responded to the strikes, which President Hayes called "an insurrection," by working with local police forces to maintain "law and order." The 1877 Upheaval marked a key turning point in American history. As historian Richard Schneirov has argued, after 1877 "the labor question replaced the slave question, class conflict threatened to overshadow sectional conflict, and urban-industrial issues rivaled rural-agrarian issues. Americans had to rethink their very identity." See Richard Schneirov, Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864-97 (University of Illinois Press, 1998), pp. 69-70.

Labor Trail

Driving the Rioters from Turner Hall," Harper's Weekly, August 18, 1877 -- Chicago History Museum - ICHi-14018<
113230 Memorial Day Massacre "Video of Leon Despres Describing the Memorial Day Massacre

Site of the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937 when workers at Republic Steel joined 85,000 workers at other steel plants in a mass strike organized by the CIO's Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). To stop the picketing, approximately 200 Chicago police officers set up a barrier across 117th Street. In a matter of minutes the police fired over 200 shots, four marchers were fatally shot, six other were mortally wounded, and thirty others suffered gunshot wounds. The gunshot wounds of the dead were all back or side wounds. The accompanying photograph shows the melee in progress with police officers and others wielding clubs against demonstrators. Leon Despres Describes the Republic Steel Massacre

Site of the Battle of the Viaduct

Labor Trail

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

More information on the Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies is available at:

The Labor Trail: Chicago's History of Working-Class Life and Struggle

Project Director:
Leon Fink, University of Illinois at Chicago

Project Advisors:
Tobias Higbie, Newberry Library
Lisa Oppenheim, Chicago Metro History Education Center
Liesl Miller Orenic, Dominican University

Administrative Director:
Jeffrey Helgeson, University of Illinois at Chicago

Project Assistants:
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

Web Design:
William Atwood and Melissa Palmer