In the spring of 1885, as construction on the new Board of Trade was drawing to a close and the night of the great banquet grew ever closer, union iron molders at the McCormick reaper plant went out on strike, protesting a cut in their wages.  McCormick hired non-union strikebreakers and armed Pinkerton agents to protect them.  The give and take between the “pinks’ and the strikers escalated to the point that on the morning of April 28, the day of the banquet, the strikers attacked a trolley of strikebreakers on their way to the factory, and then assaulted a group of Pinkertons, burned their wagon, and seized a case of rifles.  Coincidentally, the IWPA had scheduled a mass protest of the new Board of Trade for that same evening, not knowing in advance that the McCormick strike was going to erupt into a full-fledged riot on the same day. Albert Parsons addressed the gathered IWPA crowd in Market Square, stirring up their emotions for the march by calling the Board of Trade a “Board of Thieves” and a “robber’s roost.”  The police report of the incident quoted Parson’s as having said the new building should be blown up.  The band struck up “La Marseillaise,” the anthem of the IWPA, the marchers linked arms, and followed the lead red flags east on Lake Street and then south down La Salle Street.  Fortunately for all of the parties involved, cooler heads than those at the McCormick plant prevailed.  The march was stopped and turned away before it reached Jackson Street by a force of 200 policemen who had ringed the building that was led by Capt. William Ward, who persuaded the leaders of the protesters to end the march.  Parsons redirected the parade to Spies’ sympathetic Arbeiter-Zeitung building, where the event ended with a number of speeches decrying the unemployment among the city’s workers.  Not all such protests in the future would be so peacefully resolved…

Program for the Opening Night Festivities, Chicago Board of Trade, April 28/29, 1885. (Chicagology)

Thus, the new Board of Trade building was dedicated on the evening of April 28, 1885, two days before the traditional May 1 start of the new lease year.  Victoriously, the chairman of the Building Committee John Bensley, handed the keys of the new building to E. Nelson Blake, the president of the Board.  After four and a half years of internal haggling and impatient waiting, Chicago had its new Board of Trade:

“Western architecture has been brought before the people of the old as well as the new world during the past month through the completion of the new Chicago Board of Trade… it is an example of enduring strength and solid masonry such as the West has never before beheld.  The success of its architect is nowhere more remarkable than in the fact that there is no solid rock to build upon, but that each foot of Chicago soil in the locality of this building covers a veritable quagmire, and he who builds wisely must weigh each column and pier, knowing that an unequal balance will wreck his structure, especially if built as massively as this.

The evening ended with the victorious aroma of after-dinner cigars wafting throughout Boyington’s new Exchange Hall…  However, the tower would not be complete until December 31, 1885, when  the 20 electric arc lamps of Elmer Sperry’s 40,000 candlepower corona, that extended the tower’s final height to 322’ were finally turned on to mark the New Year (Sec. 7.4.).

Meanwhile, the IWPA’s timebomb of the deadline of May 1, 1886, for the eight-hour workday continued to tick…

Elmer A. Sperry, Board of Trade, 1885. Sperry’s Corona at Night. (Chicago Graphic News)


Green, James. Death in the Haymarket. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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