Polish Assassin of President McKinley

Leon Czolgosz was born in Detroit, Michigan from Polish-Russian immigrants in 1873. He had seven sisters and brothers. His family was moving very often from place to place where the jobs were located.

Leon started working as a teenager. He was employed in the American Steel and Wire Company. He was a good worker so he retained the job even during the economic crisis. His salary was quite decent for some time, 4 dollars per hour. Unfortunately the mill cut wages and the workers went on strike and were simply fired.
Leon CzolgoszAfter his mother died giving birth to another child and his father remarried Leon had a mental breakdown. He was unable to work outside the house so he was staying only at the farm. It gave Leon an opportunity to be more familiar with anarchists' newspapers. He also broke with a Catholic Church stating that the God put him down by not improving the fate of the hard working people.

Czolgosz enjoyed the news that the Italian King, Humbert I was assassinated by the anarchist G. Bresci. He considered Bresci a hero and was dreaming to do similar deed. In May 1901 he traveled to Cleveland to listen to Emma Goldman, a famoust anarchist in Federal Liberal Club. He was enchanted by her speech, talked to her briefly afterwards and a couple of months later in Chicago. (Ref.1)

On August 31, 1901, Czolgosz traveled to Buffalo, New York where he rented a room. He bought a 32 caliber Iver-Johnson pistol. He knew that President McKinley will be attending the Pan American Exposition and was hoping to be able to kill him but he still did not have a plan how to do so.

On September 5th Czolgosz attended McKinley speech about the prosperity of America. He hoped to be able to reach a president from a short distance but he was worried that president's guard would catch him before he'll have a chance. So he had to wait for his chance until the next day. President McKinley arrived afternoon at a reception at the Temple of Music. Czolgosz was waiting a couple of hours among these that wanted to shake a hand with a president.

"As the President extended his hand, Czolgosz pushed it aside and pulled out the revolver, wrapped in a handkerchief, from his pocket. Holding the weapon just inches from the President, he fired two quick shots into McKinley’s torso. There was a brief second of silence as the President stared at Czolgosz in amazement. …As the furious crowd nearly beat the assailant to death, McKinley, his hands clutching his bloody chest, said, Boys, don’t let them hurt him!'" (Ref.2.)

Doctors opened the abdomen, found that the stomach was damaged but could not find a bullet (McKinley was a big man and his size was not helping). The surgeon neglected to drain the wound and closed the incision. For the next couple of days the president's health was improving but the internal infection and the gangrene that developed along the path of the bullet caused eventually the death on the 14th of September. It is almost certain that the state of present medical knowledge would allow McKinley to survive.

Theodore Roosevelt, his vice-president age 42, was sworn in as the youngest President in American history.

After a brief trial, Czolgosz was convicted. He was executed on October 29, 1901. Many anarchists, among them Emma Goldman, were temporary imprisoned.

McKinley assassination contributed to anti-immigrant fobia in America. There were two direct implications of the derrained Czolgosz deed. The Immigration Act of 1903 was passed so that the alien anarchists are barred from the U.S. This is the first time that political beliefs were used to bar immigrants to the USA. In 1908 Theodore Roosevelt signed also a federal law directed against the anarchist press.


1. Leon Czolgosz

2. Murder At the Expo: The Assassination of President William McKinley

Please, read the other articles from the immigration series. The last one Restrictions against East European Immigration, 1880-1920. Check the first article about Where do Poles live in the USA; Part I, Statistics, Poles in NYC. Read more articles about Polish immigration / emigration - history and distribution of Polonia around the world.

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, article #44

Below are two interesting books about immigration to America:

Polish Immigrants, 1890-1920 (Blue Earth Books: Coming to America) by Rosemary Wallner, John Radzilowski

Scholarly study of some Europeans ethnic groups written by Matthew Frye Jacobson, David Roediger and entitled:
Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United States

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