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Haywood, William “Big Bill” Dudley

William Dudley Haywood  1869 – 1928): Founder of the Industrial Workers of the World  (IWW), Socialist and Labor Radical


William Dudley Haywood
William Dudley Haywood
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID hec 07493

William Dudley Haywood (February 4, 1869 – May 18, 1928), better known as “Big Bill” Haywood, was a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and a member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America. During the first two decades of the 20th century, he was involved in several important labor battles, including the Colorado Labor Wars, the  Lawrence textile strike, and other textile strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

William D. “Big Bill” Haywood ranks as one of the foremost and perhaps most feared of America’s labor radicals. Physically imposing with a thunderous voice and almost total disrespect for law, Haywood mobilized unionists, intimidated company bosses, and repeatedly found himself facing prosecution.

Haywood was born in Salt Lake City in 1869, the son of a Pony Express rider who died of pneumonia when Bill was just three. At age nine Bill punctured his right eye with a knife while whittling a slingshot, blinding it for life. (Haywood always turned his head to offer his left profile when photographed, but never replaced his milky, dead eye with a glass one.)  Bill was also nine when he first began work in the mines. The 1886 Haymarket riots, trials, and executions made a deep impression on Haywood inspiring, he would later say, his life of radicalism. The Pullman railroad strikes of 1893 further strengthened Haywood’s interest in the labor movement. Then in 1896, while working a silver mine in Idaho, Haywood listened to a speech by Ed Boyce, President of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Haywood immediately signed up as a WFM member and by 1900 became a member of the organization’s executive board.

When Boyce retired as WFM president in 1902, he recommended Haywood and Charles Moyer assume leadership of the rapidly growing organization. It was not an easy arrangement. Moyer was cautious by nature, favoring negotiations over strikes and violence. Haywood, on the other hand, was volatile, impulsive and inclined toward radical confrontation.  Haywood was a powerful speaker, and was a master at rallying working class audiences. The campaign for an eight-hour work day became one of Haywood’s principal causes. He would shout, “Eight hours of work, eight hours of play, eight hours of sleep– eight hours a day!”

From 1902 the WFM and the mine operators and government of Colorado were locked in the Colorado Labor Wars, “the closest the United States has ever approached outright class warfare.”  The war took 33 lives, including both union and non-union workers. In one single, bloody incident at an Independence, Colorado train depot on June 4, 1904, 13 non-union miners were killed by a powerful explosion as they waited for a train. Haywood was suspected of being behind the explosion, and a virtual open season on unionists ensued.

Haywood was a Socialist and an atheist, but hardly a great thinker. He said “Socialism is so plain, so clear, so simple that when a person becomes an intellectual he doesn’t understand socialism.”  Christianity, he said, “was all nonsense, based on that profane compilation of fables called the Bible.”

Orchard’s accusation that the Steunenberg assassination was ordered by Haywood led Colorado authorities to arrest him on murder charges in 1906 (Authorities looking to arrest Haywood found him sleeping with his sister-in-law).  With time on his hands in the Boise jail, Haywood began to read. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Carlyle’s The French Revolution, were among his selections. While in jail, Haywood also ran for governor of Colorado on the Socialist ticket, designed new WFM posters, and took a correspondence course in law. When a Idaho jury announced its acquittal of Haywood in July, 1907, Haywood jumped to his feet, crying and laughing at the same time. After hugging supporters, he ran to shake hands with each juror.

In 1908, Haywood was ousted by Moyer from his executive postion with the WFM. Haywood turned his attention to the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”).  In 1915, Haywood became the formal head of the I.W.W. He led textile strikes in Massaschusetts and New Jersey and helped recruit the over three million mine, mill, and factory workers that at one time or another were Wobblies. In 1918, Haywood was convicted of violating a federal espionage and sedition act by calling a strike during wartime. He served a year in Leavenworth, then jumped bond in 1921 while out on appeal. Haywood fled to Moscow where he became a trusted advisor to the new Bolshevik government.  Haywood died in Moscow in 1928. Half of his ashes were buried in the Kremlin near his friend John Reed and not far from Lenin’s tomb, an urn containing the other half of his ashes was sent to Chicago and buried near a monument to the Haymarket anarchists who first inspired his life of radicalism.

For More Information:

  • Peter Carlson, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983.
  • Joseph R. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood and the Radical Union Movement. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1969.
  • Sam Dolgoff, “Revolutionary Tendencies in American Labor – Part 2,” The American Labor Movement: A New Beginning. Resurgence.
  • Beverly Gage, The Day Wall Street Exploded: The Story of America in its First Age of Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Elizabeth Jameson, All That Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.
  • J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.


This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.



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One Reply to “Haywood, William “Big Bill” Dudley”

  1. I respect Mr. Haywood for his frankness and outspokenness. He was said to have been invited by a loggers’ Union in Louisiana. This union was, as would be expected, compromises of Black and White, and others in between. And this was when Jim Crow laws was fully in operation. When Big Bill arrived, and began to speak, he was surprised that no single Black union member was in the room. He asked those present about the absence of African American union workers. They told him that it was against the law for Blacks and Whites to congregate, socialize, or for that matter, do things in common, less so, under one roof
    Mr. Hay wood responded by saying how can you work alongside Black people who experience the same problems as you do, and not have them with you, under the same roof. Mr. Hay wood did not complete his speech until the Black union workers came in.
    That is honesty, that is integrity, that is respect for human dignity.
    Those are the qualities which, ironically, Samuel Gompers whished he had.
    At 59, Haywood died too soon.
    May his soul Rest In Peace

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