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The sequence of events that led to the Haymarket bombing began several miles away from the Haymarket, near the McCormick Reaper Works. In 1886 the McCormick works were located on the Southwest side of the city on what was called the Black Road, a stretch of Blue Island Avenue that ran for about eight blocks next to a series of canals used by the numerous businesses in the area that moved freight along the South Branch of the Chicago River. The second and third images (both undated) are a photograph and an engraving of the McCormick works.
Cyrus McCormick Sr., one of the industrial pioneers who built Chicago, had patented his first reaper in 1834, when he still was living in his native Virginia. He moved to the city and opened a factory there in 1847 in order to be closer to the vast agricultural hinterland so transformed by his machines. McCormick passed away in 1884, and his son and namesake, pictured here, took over the company.
There had been bad blood between McCormick management and employees at least since the time of the 1877 railroad strike. The younger McCormick, who had lost a strike by union iron molders in 1885, more recently acceded to other conditions submitted by his organized workers. McCormick refused, however, to accept their demand that he eliminate all non-union labor. In February he locked out union members and stated adamantly that he would run his business without them. He also hired Pinkerton agents to protect his replacement force.
In the polemical rhetoric of labor leaders and radical organizers, McCormick became an archetype of the arrogant, greedy, and morally corrupt capitalist with insatiable appetite. The Alarm described him as "the very picture of human depravity and viciousness, only common to people who have exhausted their vitality and manhood by unbounded licentiousness," while the Arbeiter-Zeitung, more simply and directly, called him a "pimp." Adding to the tension was the fact that by now the leadership of the Chicago police, including Superintendent Frederick Ebersold, Inspector John Bonfield, and Captain Michael Schaack, had taken on an antiunion sentiment.
On the afternoon of May 3, while labor agitation continued all over the city, August Spies was one of several speakers at a large rally of striking members of the Lumber Shovers' Union a few blocks from the McCormick factory. These workers, employed at the depots along the river nearby, were demanding an eight-hour day. During the course of the rally, the shift ended at the reaper factory, and several hundred members of Spies's audience left to join McCormick strikers confronting the scabs. Two police patrol wagons and several officers on foot headed for the scene, and in the ensuing violence they killed two workers. A few officers were also roughed up. Anarchists called the Haymarket meeting for the next evening in response to what they viewed as the latest atrocity committed by capital in its war against labor.