The most certain research places the birth of Joe Hill in Gävle, Sweden on October 7, 1879. At birth he was christened Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, joining the eight other children of railroad worker Olof Hägglund and his wife, Margareta.
The Hägglund Family
(Joel "Joe Hill" at far left)
Life in the Hägglund home was spartan at best in Joel's early years, but rapidly deteriorated when Olof Hägglund died shortly after Joel's eighth birthday. All of the Hägglund children, now reduced to six in number by childhood illness, were put to work to support the family. Joel first worked in a town rope factory, then eventually grew enough to take a job shoveling coal on a steam engine for a construction company.
Sometime around his twelfth birthday, Joel Hägglund contracted a form of tuberculosis that afflicted his skin and joints. He received the then-standard treatment of massive doses of X-rays to control the disease. When that failed, he underwent several painful skin operations in Stockholm which left his neck and nose scarred. The scarring would later emerge as pivotal identifying marks in the last chapter of his life.
In January, 1902 Joel's mother, Margareta, died after a long illness. Released from the obligations of family support, Joel joined his brother Paul in a decision to travel to America to make their fortune. Using their share of the proceeds from selling the family home, Paul and Joel Hägglund purchased steerage passage to America, landing in New York City in October, 1902.