He was born to German parents in New Zealand in 1869 and raised in Europe. After completing a brewing apprenticeship in Poland, he worked as a masterbrewer in Germany before being expelled for labor activities. In 1890 he moved to the United States, where he joined the Brewers Union. Trautmann was a key figure in the United Brewery Workers' Union in Milwaukee and the editor of the United Brewery Workers' German-language newspaper, Brauer Zeitung. He was expelled from that union for his participation in the founding IWW convention. In 1905 he joined with other industrial unionists to found the Industrial Workers of the World. Between 1905 and 1912 he mostly worked in the field as an organizer. In 1912 he broke with the IWW leadership over strike tactics and the alleged misuse of funds collected for the "Bread and Roses" strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In 1913, Trautmann joined the so-called yellow IWW created by the Socialist Labor Party — which later became the Workers' International Industrial Union (WIIU) — as a "full-time propagandist".
Anonymous: The Founding Convention of the IWW - Proceedings, Merit Publishers, New York 1969. Library of Congress Catalog Number 70-85538
Jay Miller, Mark Derby: William E. Trautmann, New Zealand Wobbly, Industrial Worker No. 1689, Seite 5, IWW, Philadelphia PA., November 2006.
Jay Miller: Soldier of the Class War: The Life and Writing of William E. Trautmann, Wayne State University, 2000.
Heiner Stuhlfauth: Der umherschweifende Bierbrauer: William E. Trautmann - ein deutscher Einwanderer als Impulsgeber der amerikanischen Arbeiterbewegung in Holger Marcks + Matthias Seiffert (Hg.): Die großen Streiks - Episoden aus dem Klasssenkampf, Unrast-Verlag, Münster 2008, Ss. 25-26. ISBN 978-3-89771-473-1
William E. Trautmann: One big union; an outline of possible industrial organization of the working class, with chart, Charles H. Kerr, Chicago 1912.
William E. Trautmann, Riot, Chicago Labor Printing Company, Chicago, 1922.
William E. Trautmann, E.G. Flynn, Walker C. Smith: Direct Action + Sabotage, Charles H. Kerr, Chicago 1997.
Fred W. Thompson + John Bekken: The Industrial Workers of the World: Its First 100 Years, IWW, Cincinnati 2006. ISBN 978-0-917124-02-0