It will be 128 years ago next Monday that the Bay View Tragedy took place. A fight for eight-hour work days took place around the country. With all of Milwaukee’s industry, the city’s employers did not escape the nationwide conflict between businesses and workers.
The Bay View Tragedy took place at Milwaukee Iron Company’s Rolling Hill, which was located approximately at South Superior Street and East Russell Avenue. It was not a spontaneous event; May 1st marks the beginning of the turmoil that led up to the tragedy.
Ken Germanson, former president of the Wisconsin Labor History Society from 1992 to 2009 and is now President Emeritus, explains that May 1st, 1886 was set as a nationwide goal to establish the eight-hour day around the country. It was a goal that was set for many years.
Germanson points out that Milwaukee was particularly involved in this nationwide effort for the eight-hour day because the city was industrial on the north side and the south side. Northern Milwaukee was inhabited by German immigrants who worked at breweries and the south side of hosted Polish immigrants working at mills and factories.
“All of the horrors of the early industrial working age were still being hoisted upon workers,” says Germanson. “They were getting about $1 a day, which forced them to live in cramped corners and squalled conditions.”
On May 1st, most of Milwaukee’s industries were closed due to workers striking for eight-hour days. There was one business that remained open: the Bay View Rolling Mills, the city’s largest employer.
Listen to the interview to learn how Bay View Rolling Mills became a landmark in Wisconsin Labor History and how seven people lost their life in the struggle for the eight-hour work day.
Ken Germanson is the former president of the Wisconsin Labor History Society from 1992 to 2009 and is now President Emeritus. This year’s commemoration event will be held Sunday May 4th at 3 PM on the corner of South Superior Street and East Russell Avenue.