Also Known
as the
Massacre at Bay View
<--Robert Shilling editor of the volksblatt or peoples place

Paul Grottkau editor of the arbeiten zietung or voice of the worker-->


In early labor history there was no one looking out for the workers and as a result employers were working them ten hours a day, six days a week for ninety cents to one dollar and fifteen cents a day. In Milwaukee, Groups, such as the Central Labor Union led by a Socialist Paul Grottkau and Catholic Church's Knights of Labor led by Robert Shilling, were formed to work for workers rights. One thing these groups were asking for was an eight hour workday with no reduction in pay. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions called for a great movement to win the 8-hour workday, which would climax on May 1st, 1886. Their plan was to spend two years urging all American employers to adopt a standard eight hour day, instead of the 10 to 12, even up to 16-hour days that were prevalent. After May 1st of 1886, all workers not yet on the 8-hour system were to cease work in a nationwide strike until their employer met the demand. In Milwaukee they form the eight hour league with the purpose of persuading the local government to adopt the eight hour workday. Milwaukee adopted it but the law had no penalty for employers whom did not comply. These groups were extremely upset with what was happening and planned a series of demonstrations on May 1st 1886, when the law was to take effect. There were over 1600 such demonstrations accross the country. These demonstrations led to serious trouble in Chicago's Haymarket Square,where on May 3rd Chicago police shot four workers to death and on May 4th someone unknown hurled a bomb into the police ranks killing several officers and wounding many more and there was more trouble at Rolling Mills in Milwaukee as a somewhat peaceful demonstration turned ugly. The following events led up to what is known today as the Massacre at Bay View.

We want to see the sunshine

We want to smell the flowers

We want the time for what we will

We mean to have eight hours

The eight hour flag

One similar to this was carried at the Rolling Mills. According to the Milwaukee sentinel the man who carried it was shot thru his jaw and had to live the rest of his life with a silver jaw.

May 2nd

The central labor union hold a parade in Milwaukee. They march with banners proclaiming slogans such as "The workmen do not beg, they demand", "We do not work for King Mammon" and "Eight hours is our battlecry". The Milwaukee Journal bills it as the biggest event in city history. Wisconsin governor Jeremiah Rusk is concerned about violence as strikes for the eight hour day are happening in the city. On april 29th, he had put the state militia on standby.

The parade is watched by some 25,000 people and afterwards there is a picnic at the Milwaukee gardens with speakers denouncing the ten hour workday and voicing concerns over employers taking advantage of employees. They worked the crowd into a frenzy and before long everyone was chanting eight hours

Some members of the Knights of Labor were in attendance, Afterwards they go back to their headquarters at St. Stanislaus church and speak to some of their members. Soon afterwards eight hundred start marching thru the streets of Milwaukee chanting eight hours everyone must strike. Polish workers and tradesmen stop their work and join the march.

St. Stanilaus Church
fifth and Mitchell

The first factory they came to was cm&stp car company who built railroad cars. after gaining recruits there they marched to Edward P. Allis Reliant Steel works. There the marchers were met by foreman and supervisors who try to keep the marchers away with high pressure water hoses but when the workers inside hear the chanting they stop working and join the march. The marchers continued and got more recruits as they went along. Businesses were closing at an alarming rate due to labor shortages.

The owners of cm&stp car company put a special train at Governor Jeremiah Rusks disposal. he rushes to Milwaukee and sets up his office at the plankinton hotel where Employers are asking Governor Rusk to call out the militia but Rusk at this point sees no reason and does not want to overstep the city.

The workers continue their strike and get more recruits as the Milwaukee police trail the crowd hoping there would be no violence.

Governor Rusk is asked again by employers to call out the militia and again he says no.

May 3rd

The strikers have shut down every factory in Milwaukee except one, The North Chicago Railroad Rolling Mills Steel Foundry in Bay View, the chant now goes out eight hours, everyone must strike, onto the mills. By this time the marchers are now numbering about fifteen hundred. It consists of mainly polish, some germans and some native americans. Meanwhile the number of strikers in the city are about twelve thousand

Robert Shilling convinces Eward P. Allis to offer it's workers the eight hour day with a pay increase however the workers are too caught up in the moment and refuse to come back unless everyone gets an eight hour day. Both Shilling and Grottkau try to talk the crowd into dispersing speaking their native language but the workers pay no heed and the English speaking reporters do not understand them reporting that they were inciting the crowd.

The town police follow the crowd into the Bay View Neighborhood late in the afternoon and call governor rusk to inform him they did not have adequate forces if violence should occur. Rusk now calls out the Militia, including the Kosciuko Militia made up mainly by polish businessmen who do business in the polish section of the city.

The strikers begin negotiating with the supervisors at Rolling Mills for permission to enter the plant and talk to the workers. The plant manager refuses and the crowd will not let him back inside until he accepts. The lincoln guard arrive on the scene by special train and immediately help him get back in. Then they form a line between the strikers, who are now throwing rocks, and the mills. Their orders are to protect the property at all costs. Meanwhile inside the Mills workers are arguing with each other over the eight hour work day.

By nightfall there are over two hundred and fifty National Guardsmen at the mills, but the closest unit, The Kosciusko guard, has not arrived yet

May 4th

Early in the morning the Kosciuko guard arrives, on foot, to jeers and name calling as strikers are calling them traitors to their fellow countrymen, while others are saying join us or go home. The strikers then form a wave of people between the kosciuko guard and the mills to stop them from joining the lincoln guard. There was not one person in the Kosciuko guard who did not recognize someone striking. Some strikers are throwing rocks at the Kosciuko Guard, several members in the rear of the guard get scared and fire in the air over the heads of the strikers and accidently hit the mills. After this incident the strikers leave the guard alone and they proceed into the Mills joining the other units called.

The strikers now ask the supervisors to wire their headquarters in chicago to start negotiations on an eight hour work day. They agree but the answer from Chicago is fast and short "No". At this point no one in the crowd knows about the ugly events unfolding at Haymarket Square, where a bomb kills four police officers and wounds many more

governor Rusk is under considerable pressure from employers to stop the strike. Employers are saying that they will turn the entire society upside down and use the bombing in haymarket square as their proof that a revolution is under way. Rusk calls the mills and tells Captain Treaumer of the Lincoln guard "if the strikers try to enter the mill, shoot to kill"

Captain Treaumer then orders his men to pick out a man, concentrate and kill him when the order is given. the strikers spend the night in open fields nearby while the Militia camps at the mills with sentries posted. During the night the sentries are shooting at anything that moves. A Navy tug brings provisions for the guard.

May 5th

Around nine in the morning the strikers gather again chanting eight hours, a reporter who slept with them reported that it was odd that this was a group with no real leadership but everyone was united in one single purpose. The crowd now approached the mill and faced the militia who were ready to fire. Before Treaumer knew the crowds real intentions he orders halt, but the strikers, who are about two hundred yards away, do not hear him. Then he orders fire and seven people lay dead as others are injured. the crowd is in chaos as people are running from the scene. The Milwaukee Journal reports that six are dead and at least eight more are expected to die within twenty four hours. Meanwhile some strikers are calling for revenge on the militia but to no avail. For several days afterwards a few strikers were still marching throughout the city but no one would join them.

The dead included a thirteen year old boy who tagged along with the crowd wondering what was going on and a retired worker who lived in bay view, he was struck down by a stray bullet as he was getting water and was not part of the strike.

This marker is located at russel and superior on Jones Island in Bay view, a part of Milwaukee



The Dead:

Frank Kunkel

Frank Nowarczyk

John Marsh

Robert Erdman

Johann Zazka

Martin Jankowiak

Michael Ruchalski


Eight hours for work

Eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will

Another flag similar to the two at the top of this page were also carried by strikers

May 6th

Leaders of labor groups meet with governor Rusk asking him to pull back the Militia, they would police their own actions but Rusk refuses until the strikers disband and go back to work


wisconsin national guardsmen at the E.P. Allis steel works during the strikes

While cleaning up the guardsmen find two more bodies along the railroad tracks, apparently polish immigrants who were on strike, they remain unidentified to this day.

Everyone went back to work at ten hours a day

On May 9th The Milwaukee journal reports that Edward P. Allis was firing it's polish workers and replacing them with other nationalities because the polish people were too radical. Other companies follow suit for the same reason and for a time no pole could find work in Milwaukee. Meanwhile the polish section boycotts the businesses of the Kosciuko guard members.

The national guard finally pull out on may 13th

an inquiry of the events praises the guards actions calling it an unpleasant duty, a humane gesture for firing only one volley and indicts at least twenty poles for leading an unlawful assembly. They are sentenced to hard labor ranging from six to nine months. Among these are Paul Grottkau who receives the stiffest sentence of nine months. Robert Shilling is also indicted but his first trial ends up in a hung jury. While waiting for a second trial he forms the populace party, who elect a new district attorney. He is formally acquitted.

The Milwaukee journal reports that businesses are giving cash to the militia units for their actions at Rolling Mills. the Journal denounces the action saying they did what was expected of them and this was going to far.

As a result of public sympathy for what had happened The voters of Milwaukee county replaced the county and city governments with socialist representatives in 1888. Since then Milwaukee has had at least three socialist mayors the last one serving from 1948-1960. Mayor Hoan served 24 years. Victor Berger served in congress for 29 years. In 1916 he was banned from his seat for his stand on U.S. involvement in world war I, He felt it was a capitalist war to make money for big business. During his ban He was re-elected. His Newspaper "The Leader" is called disloyal and the U.S. Postal Service is prohibited by the disloyalty laws, to deliver it thru their system.

The eight hour movement was derailed and political parties were formed to fight for the rights of workers, The eight hour workday and child labor laws. Among these are the socialist labor party, the populace party(led by robert shilling), and the progressive party founded by fighting Bob LaFollette who became governor of wisconsin then went on to congress where he died still in office, in 1924 after a close bid for president. His son took over his office and held it until 1948 when the progressive party folded.

The Knights of Labor are no longer recognized by the Catholic Church to preserve the Churchs image. They join with other Unions to form the American Federation of Labor. The Central Labor Union also join with other unions and call themselves the Congress of Industrial Organization. Several years later the two major Unions merge calling themselves the AFL-CIO.

The history of Bay View, Bernhard C. Korn, 1948
The Wisconsin Historical Labor Society
The Milwaukee historical preservation Society
The history of Wisconsin, paul nesbit

Every year the Wisconsin Labor Historical Society holds a memorial service for those that died at Rolling Mills. After the small service they lay wreaths in the approximate vicinity of where the incident happened. The service is usually held on the first sunday in May. For more information on this call Joanne Rica at (414)771-0700.

"The Ghosts of Bay View"


Larry Penn(1986)

The years roll around and yellow the page

But the history of labor won't mellow with age

The blood in the workers will always run red

When the wind blows a time for a change.

The ground here is hallowed it's haunted they say

By the ghost of the workers that came here in may

When the killing was seen as a duty by some

To put down the eight hour day

The sound of the rifles has faded away

The bones of the rolling mill gone to decay

And only the hall where the puddlers met

Still stands like an eight-hour day.

It's time once again for us to unite

It's time once again for labor to fight

Tell me what will you do for your roses and rest

When they take back the eight-hour day.

To all who would labor for board and for bed

To all who would give up on union for dead

The blood in the workers will always run red

When the winds blow a time for a change.

Now here in Bay View it's all quiet today

But you still hear 'em call for an eight-hour day

On This site

The Haymarket Monument(Another version of the event)

Comments or Labor events suggestions

Haymarket Square

Wisconsin Workers History

other interesting sites

Larry Penn's Cookie Man Music


Comfind search engine

The Militant newsletter

Stec's labour links (history)

The Solidarity Song(labors anthem)

An electic List of events in U.S. labor history



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Uploaded February 15, 1998
By Dave Semenske,
©copyright 1998, David Semenske
Revised November 6th, 1998
The Historical accuracy of this page cannot be guarnteed one hundred percent. It is a compilation of works on the subject by local authors.