Year
1914
Month Day
July 18

Labor activist and singer Joe Hill sentenced to death

Convicted of murder on meager evidence, the singing Wobbly Joe Hill is sentenced to be executed in Utah.

A native of Sweden who immigrated to the U.S. in 1879, Joe Hill joined the International Workers of the World (IWW) in 1910. The IWW was an industrial union that rejected the capitalist system and dreamed one day of leading a national workers’ revolution. Members of the IWW—known as Wobblies—were especially active in the western United States, where they enjoyed considerable success in organizing mistreated and exploited workers in the mining, logging and shipping industries.

Beginning in 1908, the IWW began encouraging its membership to express their beliefs through song. The IWW published its Little Red Song Book, otherwise known as the I.W.W. Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. A few years later, the witty and handsome Joe Hill became one of the Wobblies’ leading singers and songwriters. Hill composed many of the IWW’s best-loved anthems, including “The Preacher of the Slave” which introduced the phrase “pie in the sky.” By 1914, Hill was one of the most famous Wobblies in the nation.

Public notoriety, however, could prove dangerous for a radical union man. In 1914, Hill was arrested and charged with murdering two Salt Lake City policemen during a grocery store robbery. Although the evidence against Hill was tenuous, a jury of conservative Utahans convicted him on this day in 1914 and he was sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad the following year.

Ever since, scholars have debated whether Hill was actually guilty or was railroaded because of his radical politics. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, Hill became a powerful martyr for the IWW cause by telegramming his comrades with a famous last-minute message: “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.”

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” is published

On July 18, 1995, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, a memoir by a little-known law professor named Barack Obama, is published. Obama wrote the book before entering politics; 13 years after it was published, he was elected America’s 44th president. Dreams ...read more

Sitcom actress murdered; death prompts anti-stalking legislation

On July 18, 1989, the 21-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer is murdered at her Los Angeles home by Robert John Bardo, a mentally unstable man who had been stalking her. Schaeffer’s death helped lead to the passage in California of legislation aimed at preventing stalking. ...read more

Video of Titanic wreckage released

On July 18, 1986, new close-up videotapes of the sunken ocean liner Titanic are released to the public. Taken on the first manned expedition to the wreck, the videotapes are stunning in their clarity and detail, showing one of the ship’s majestic grand staircases and a ...read more

Spanish Civil War breaks out

On July 18, 1936, the Spanish Civil War begins as a revolt by right-wing Spanish military officers in Spanish Morocco and spreads to mainland Spain. From the Canary Islands, General Francisco Franco broadcasts a message calling for all army officers to join the uprising and ...read more

Senator Ted Kennedy drives car off bridge at Chappaquiddick Island

Shortly after leaving a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts drives an Oldsmobile off a wooden bridge into a tide-swept pond. Kennedy escaped the submerged car, but his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, did not. The senator did not ...read more

FDR nominated for unprecedented third term

On July 18, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who first took office in 1933 as America’s 32nd president, is nominated for an unprecedented third term. Roosevelt, a Democrat, would eventually be elected to a record four terms in office, the only U.S. president to serve more than ...read more

Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is published

On July 18, 1925, Volume One of Adolf Hitler’s philosophical autobiography, Mein Kampf, is published. It was a blueprint of his agenda for a Third Reich and a clear exposition of the nightmare that will envelope Europe from 1939 to 1945. The ...read more

Harry S. Truman signs second Presidential Succession Act

On July 18, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signs the Presidential Succession Act. This act revised an older succession act that was passed in 1792 during George Washington’s first term. The original succession act designated the Senate president pro tempore as the first in line ...read more

Nero’s Rome burns

The great fire of Rome breaks out and destroys much of the city on this day in the year 64. Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further ...read more

Twenty-one people are shot to death at McDonald’s

James Oliver Huberty opens fire in a crowded McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California, killing 21 people and wounding 19 others with several semi-automatic weapons. Minutes earlier, Huberty had left home, telling his wife, “I’m going hunting…hunting for humans.” Huberty, ...read more

Assault of Battery Wagner and death of Robert Gould Shaw

Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and 272 of his troops are killed in an assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina. Shaw was commander of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, perhaps the most famous regiment of African American troops during the war. Fort Wagner stood on ...read more

Naval hero John Paul Jones dies in Paris

On July 18, 1792, the Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones dies in his Paris apartment, where he was still awaiting a commission as the United States consul to Algiers. Commander Jones, remembered as one of the most daring and successful naval commanders of the American ...read more