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The Birth of the Labor Movement

Wisconsin's workers and reformers made significant contributions to the history of labor in the United States, helping to enact legislation such as workers' compensation and unemployment insurance that served as models for similar laws in other states. The study of labor history itself also began in Wisconsin when University of Wisconsin economist John R. Commons set out to document the history of work and labor in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Commons and his associates also joined labor leaders, the business community, and politicians to bring about some of Wisconsin's groundbreaking social policies.

The evolution of Wisconsin's... more...

Original Documents and Other Primary Sources

Link to article: A tariff advocate seeks worker support, 1880  A tariff advocate seeks worker support, 1880
Link to article: Milwaukee's mayor looks back on the Bay View Riot of 1886  Milwaukee's mayor looks back on the Bay View Riot of 1886
Link to article: An overview of Polish immigration through 1896  An overview of Polish immigration through 1896
Link to article: A Milwaukee worker recalls the labor movement's early years.  A Milwaukee worker recalls the labor movement's early years.
Link to article: The Sheboygan Press covers the strike in Kohler, 1934  The Sheboygan Press covers the strike in Kohler, 1934
Link to article: Woodworkers strike turns violent in Oshkosh, 1898  Woodworkers strike turns violent in Oshkosh, 1898
Link to article: Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk (1830-1893)  Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk (1830-1893)
Link to book: Milwaukee trade unions organize to lobby for workers' rights  Milwaukee trade unions organize to lobby for workers' rights
Link to book: A Labor Day souvenir from the 1900 celebration  A Labor Day souvenir from the 1900 celebration
Link to book: Kohler workers strike for Union recognition  Kohler workers strike for Union recognition
Link to book: The National Labor Relations Board tries to settle the Kohler strike, 1934  The National Labor Relations Board tries to settle the Kohler strike, 1934
Link to book: The many products of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, 1948  The many products of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, 1948
Link to images: Pictures of strikes and lockouts, 1886-1970  Pictures of strikes and lockouts, 1886-1970
Link to images: Photographs of the Bay View Rolling Mills  Photographs of the Bay View Rolling Mills
Link to images: Photographs of post-war Milwaukee labor activities  Photographs of post-war Milwaukee labor activities
Link to manuscript: Working women describe their daily lives, 1914  Working women describe their daily lives, 1914
Link to manuscript: A Progressive Era commission investigates vice, 1914  A Progressive Era commission investigates vice, 1914
Link to manuscript: A Milwaukee brothel's account book, ca. 1910  A Milwaukee brothel's account book, ca. 1910

Primary Sources Available Elsewhere

Link to article: An African American publishes a labor newspaper in La Crosse, 1886-87  An African American publishes a labor newspaper in La Crosse, 1886-87
Link to article: The National Guard's official report on the Bay View Riot of 1886.  The National Guard's official report on the Bay View Riot of 1886.
Link to book: Wisconsin Blue Books  Wisconsin Blue Books
Link to book: Labor and truancy laws for women and children, 1912  Labor and truancy laws for women and children, 1912
Link to book: The autobiography of John R. Commons (1934)  The autobiography of John R. Commons (1934)
Link to book: Report of the bureau of labor and industrial statistics, 1885-1886  Report of the bureau of labor and industrial statistics, 1885-1886
Link to book: State regulations for women workers, 1920  State regulations for women workers, 1920

Related Links

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Learn about other topics from our new book, Wisconsin History Highlights
A timeline of Wisconsin labor, 1883 to the present

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