The History of Labor Day, It’s Not All About The End of Summer

As I prepare to cut out of work early today in order to get a jumpstart on the long weekend, it got me thinking about what Labor Day actually celebrates.  I always had off for Labor Day, but I never really took the time to think about why.

I always knew that the day was to honor members of the workforce, however I never thought any further than that.  How did it come to be?  Who decided that American workers should be honored? Why is it the first Monday of September? And so on.  So as we all start to head out the door to barbeques and beaches to close out the summer, here’s some insight into how Labor Day came to be.

(Cue the old timey music and faded black & white photos.)

Labor Day was proposed by either Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who was serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY OR Peter McGuire of the American Federation of Labor after attending the annual labor festival in Toronto—we’re not sure which man, but we’re pretty sure the year was 1882.

Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday, but it wouldn’t be a federal holiday for seven more years in 1894.  Despite being a federal holiday only 30 states celebrated. 

It wasn’t until after the Pullman Strike, where several workers were killed that President Cleveland and Congress unanimously signed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.

Labor Day is celebrated in September as to not conflict with International Worker’s Day that is celebrated on May 1st.

The traditional way to celebrate was with a parade and festival for workers and their families (so I’d say picnics and barbeques are keeping with tradition).

So that’s a quick summary of what I learned.  Yeah it’s not an in-depth thesis—but for a Friday morning before a holiday, I’d say it’s not bad-short, sweet, and to the point.

In a time when Labor Day (to most people) marks the end of the summer and no longer being able to wear white, it’s nice to take the time to see why this day is important.  Thank you Mr. Maguire or Mr. McGuire for your proposal, I’ll toast you this weekend! 

And to anyone still in the office to read this, have a great weekend!


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