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Illinois History
A Historical Overview of Illinois from Native American Inhabitants
through World War II

© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 4

Historical Review 1.2   
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Post-Civil War Illinois - Modernizing Continued, at the expense of the worker

     At the conclusion of the Civil War, modernization continued in Illinois, economically and socially. Mass production, electricity, and transportation advances all made life easier for Illinoisans. The Home Insurance Building, designed by William L. Jenney, was completed in 1886, marking Chicago home to the first modern skyscraper. This architectural feat stood as a physical symbol of the forward progress made by the people of Illinois. In 1893, Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition (the World's Fair). During the exposition, Chicago further flaunted its advances to the state and the nation, attracting over 27,500,000 visitors from home and abroad.

     Social progress was well underway in Chicago during this period as welll. In 1889, Jane Adams founded Hull House, one of the first social settlement houses in the United States. There, she provided services and education to immigrants helping them to adjust in America and lead better lives. Social services were much in demand at this time due to the hard times faced by the working class. The progress being made technologically and economically hampered the working class. Factories were dangerous and unsanitary, and the pay was so low that workers put in sixteen hour days just to rent sub-standard housing with inflated rents. Despite companies making record revenues, women and children often times had to work to make ends meet in the family.

     Poor treatment of the working class did not go unopposed, and Illinois became the center of some of the most famous labor strikes in America. The Haymarket Riot and the Pullman Strike are two events crucial to understanding the country's labor history. The Haymarket Riot took place on May 4, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. A bomb exploded at a labor demonstration that was being held in the square, killing seven policemen and injuring over 100 police and demonstrators. The demonstration was being held in response to the strike at the McCormick Harvester Plant the day before. At the strike, a clash between the strikers and strike-breakers left six strikers killed. After the explosion, seven anarchists were arrested for causing the riot and exploding the bomb, and six were sentenced to death (the seventh was sentenced to 15 years in jail). Evidence to back the charges was shifty, with the men being arrested mainly because they had circulated anarchist literature prior to the strike, and attended the demonstration at Haymarket Square. Despite the faulty evidence, the men were given the death penalty. Two of the men saved their lives through appeals, and one man committed suicide. The other four were hanged, drawing much attention and debate as to whether the men received a fair trial, or were charged merely because they were foreign anarchists.

     The Pullman Strike (May-June, 1894) was yet another major event in labor history. The head of the Pullman Palace Car Company, George M. Pullman, built a company town for his workers to live. When a general depression brought wage cuts to the company, Pullman did not lower rent prices to offset the wage cuts. When the company failed to reconcile the situation, the workers walked out. The American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, supported the strike and refused to handle Pullman cars unless the company agreed to negotiate. The company continued to refuse negotiation, and as a result a nationwide railroad strike was called. President Cleveland ordered federal troops to Chicago, and strikers as well as labor leaders were arrested. The strike was put down without negotiations.

Chicago on Fire

     On October 8, 1871, a fire ravaged through Chicago, causing death, homelessness, and immense destruction. The fire started when a dry landscape caught on fire and spread to the city. A strong, steady wind kept the fire ablaze, and spread it so fast that the firemen could not extinguish it. The fire began on the West Side, breached the Chicago River, and fed on the Southwest Side. The blaze proceeded north to the Irish shantytown, Conley's Patch, and continued until finally reaching the downtown area. By the time it got to the Central Business District, the firewall was a mile wide. The inferno had become a firestorm, creating its own forward movement from the generation of its own thermal updraft. The fire burned from 10:00 pm until 12:00 midnight the next night. The "Great Chicago Fire" burned 2,100 acres, destroyed 17,420 buildings, left 100,000 residents homeless, and killed 300 people.
By Rickie Lazzerini
Staff Historian
Kindred Trails Worldwide Genealogy Resources

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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