A Brief History of Labor Day

Labor Day is best known as the holiday that marks the end of summer and the start of the new school year. However, the holiday was originally intended to do much more than mark when it is no longer appropriate to wear white. The following is a brief history of Labor Day and why it is still celebrated today.

What is Labor Day?

The Labor Day holiday was created as a way to honor the American worker. The holiday was created in the heart of the industrial revolution, during which time workers were exposed to poor conditions, long hours, and few benefits. At the time, the average American worked 12 hours per day, 7 days per week, with children as young as 5 and 6 working alongside their parents in factories, mills, and mines.  Because of this, workers began to organize themselves into unions to fight their employers for better working conditions.

The first Labor Day

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. Organized by the Central Labor Union, Labor Day was intended to be a “workingman’s holiday” in which the “strength and spirit of labor and trade organizations” was celebrated. Much like today, the first Labor Day celebration began with a parade, followed by periods of recreation during which speakers addressed the workers and their families.

The creators of Labor Day

There are two men who are credited with the creation of Labor Day: Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire. McGuire was the cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, while Maguire worked as secretary of the Central Labor Union.

When is Labor Day?

Labor Day is not on the same day every year. Instead, it is celebrated on the first Monday in September. This year, Labor Day is Monday, September 5th.

Who declared Labor Day a holiday?

Labor Day was officially made a federal holiday in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland. At the time, 23 states had already adopted Labor Day as an official celebration since the movement’s beginnings a decade prior. Many believe that Labor Day was made a federal holiday in an effort to make up for the government’s failed attempt to break up a railway strike; federal troops had clashed with the American Railroad Union weeks earlier in riots that left dozens of workers dead. Congress passed the act as a way to make amends for the government’s handling of the strike and riots.