William Dudley "Big Bill" Haywood: The Successful Progressive

Around the beginning of the 20th century, there were many men and woman who had earned themselves the title of Progressives. These people fought for simple rights and freedoms in the workplace, in society, and in the home. Progressives were positive for the growth in society because of the changes they influenced. There were many Progressives who were successful in their protests for woman’s rights, workers rights, and business rights, but, unfortunately, not all Progressives were successful in changing the ills of society that they fought so strongly against. Due to the great amount of people that had joined the progressive movement, there was a need for leaders; a need for leaders that would not only rally the people together, but leaders who would be able to change things on their own. William Dudley “Big Bill” Haywood was the type of leader the people needed, and he is definitely one of the Progressives that can be said to have been successful.

Although people are usually distinguished as being successful by the accomplishments in their lifetime, their success lies, in reality, with their personality and how they handle a situation. If “Big Bill” Haywood had not grown up to develop the type of personality he has become so famous for, he would not be known as one of the successful Progressives of his time.

“Big Bill” Haywood had the type of personality that caused him to never stand down when he was challenged for something he believed that would be worth fighting for, which was almost anything. He had even taken a number a beatings in his lifetime, which proves this fact. For example, in April of 1904 in Denver’s Union Station, “Big Bill” Haywood was attempting to make contact with Charles Moyer, who had been seized by the military. After being told that he could not speak to Mr. Moyer at that time, he punched one of the guards in the face. Moments later “…Walter Kinley, one of the husky gunmen hired by the mine owners, knocked him partly down a flight of stairs leading to the basement, while others struck him repeatedly in the face with the barrels of their revolvers.” (Lukas, 202) His strong will for fighting for what he believed had already proved him to be a success among the common men, but it had proved to be an even greater asset during other events in his life. Not only did his strong will cause him to be successful, but his desensitization towards violence had also allowed him to push his success to further limits.

Not only did “Big Bill” Haywood stand up for his beliefs, but he did so with violence. Violence had been in his life since childhood and dealing with situations using force had almost become second nature. One of his first encounters with violence was when he “…saw Manny Mills and Slippery Dick exchange gunfire and Manny drop dead in ankle-deep mud.” (Lukas, 205) Haywood stated in his later years that “[He] accepted it all as a natural part of life.” This attitude towards violence allowed Haywood to, for example, aid in the Cripple Creek strike in which a train platform was blown up and 13 strikebreakers were killed. It had been said that the explosion was so violent, to put it lightly, that there was a very large area for the authorities to investigate. His use of violence in his protests caused many other radical Progressives to follow him in his strikes and protests; which gained a great deal of attention from the government. Being able to accomplish his goal of showing the problems in society to the public by his violent means was a success from many perspectives. He was able to gain a majority of his followers because he had an overwhelming presence and a powerful speaking voice.

The ability to draw attention and hold it while speaking is a gift many people wish they had; a gift Haywood possessed. “Haywood was a powerful speaker, and was a master at rallying working class audiences.” (Linder) His outstanding ability in speaking allowed him to draw more people into the causes he supported. One of his most popular ways of doing so was to shout “Eight hours of work, eight hours of play, eight hours of sleep – eight hours a day!” Haywood’s natural skill of being able to speak with power and confidence in the presence of large crowds is a tremendous success in the eyes of society.

Not to mention Haywood’s successes in his every day life, he was also able to work his way up in the ranks of the WFM, the Western Federation of Miners, to being second in command. When the Boyce, the leader of the WFM at the time, left with his wife for a six-week honeymoon in Ireland, he “…[put] Bill Haywood, the union’s second in command in charge of the Denver headquarters.” (Lukas, 215) Being in this position of power was also an accomplishment in Haywood’s life which many looked upon as yet another success in his career as a Progressive. Not only was Haywood able to rise in the ranks of one organization, thought, but he was able to aid in the formation of one of his own: the IWW, or International Workers of the World.

The International Workers of the World, also known as “the Wobblies”, was one of the largest and most influential unions to have existed in the United States. It was a union that was to combine the other unions in the United States, such as the United Brewery Workers or the United Metal Workers, “…to form a broad coalition of unions dedicated to industrial unionism.” (Lukas, 232) A conference was held secret in May of 1904 to form such an organization, and Haywood was elected as the chairman; a very influential position. Resulting from this meeting was the IWW’s manifesto. In a following meeting, Haywood was again elected as chairman. Haywood’s goal was to “…see an uplifting of the fellow that is down in the gutter…realizing that society can be no better than its most miserable.” (Lukas, 233) He was able to accomplish many goals and fill many influential positions of power during his lifetime should, therefore, be seen as a successful progressive.

William Dudley “Big Bill” Haywood was not only a leader among the Progressives; he was successful, despite the way many have viewed his methods of accomplishing his goals. If any man had done one of his accomplishments or had his extremely influential ability of speaking, he would have earned the right to be portrayed as successful in the eyes of historians and in the pages of history books. Haywood had been able to draw the attention of society, lead large numbers of people in uprisings and protests, and even form one of the most influential national unions of the time. His success as a Progressive has helped to influence the changes that have taken place since the early 1900’s when he helped to expose the ills of society.


  • Lukas, J. Anthony. Big Trouble. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.


  • Linder, Douglas. Biography of William Big Bill Haywood. 1998. Homepage. December, 2001. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/haywood/HAY_BHAY.HTM
  • PBS.org. William “Big Bill” Haywood. 2001. PBS. December, 2001. http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/d_h/haywood.htm