A Brief History of Labor Day
Graphic Courtesy of County Connection
It’s Labor Day weekend and many all across the country will celebrate it in a number of ways. Some will kick back and relax. Others will BBQ and a lot of people will sit in front of their TVs and catch the beginning of College Football. But, before we start the grill…we should take a moment to reflect what Labor Day really means. How did the holiday come about? Who created it? Let’s take a closer look.
The 19th Century
The United States was a country in flux in the late 1800s. After the Civil War, the nation started to industrialize and many started moving from the rural areas of the country to the urban areas. It was an age where the American workforce did not have the rights that we all enjoy today. Many worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week and holidays were few and far between. Even children as young 5 were sometimes forced to work even though it was against the law.
While some workers in mines and mills tried to unionize, many of these strikes were broken up by authorities. Some companies employed strikebreakers to disrupt union organization…some sowed seeds of discontent and others used violence to intimidate the workers. Regardless, many pressed on and to make their concerns be heard.
It Started With an Idea
While it’s unknown exactly who proposed the first Labor Day holiday, it’s believed that Matthew Maguire, a former machinist, proposed the holiday in 1884 during the annual Central Labor Union meeting in New York. Others say that Peter McGuire, a New York carpenter, proposed the holiday after seeing a similar celebration in Canada. Regardless, many liked the idea and proposed it to the state legislature the following year. Although, New York had the first bill advocating for the holiday, Oregon became the first state to officially approve it in 1887. Other states later followed suit.
Restlessness and Reconciliation
The labor movement was still pushing for more reforms and many in American business pushed back. Many had varying reasons, but sadly…this did lead to violence that shook the American people. The Haymarket Massacre and the Pullman Strike in Chicago started to raise questions. Both law enforcement and the military were used to break the strikes and many were critical about how labor was treated and how the government should act.
Photo Courtesy of Chicago Historical Society
The law was unanimously passed in Congress and President Grover Cleveland signed the holiday into law on June 28th, 1894…six days after the end of the Pullman strike. Originally, some unions wanted the holiday to be on May 1st, but Cleveland was against the idea because it would fall in line on socialist and anarchist holidays of May Day.
He moved the holiday to the first Monday in September and it’s been an American holiday ever since.
Celebrations and the Future
Photo Courtesy of the University of Southern California
The first Labor Day Parade took place in New York City in 1882. What started as a parade has now turned into an American tradition. Football begins, many students are back in school and many grill out to mark the beginning of fall. Parades still go on in towns every year and many politicians still speak about the importance of the labor movement. Some even go out shopping since Labor Day is a big day in the retail world.
Photo Courtesy of CD Kitchen
Regardless of the future, Labor Day will continue to honor not only the American workforce, but will also celebrate a little slice of Americana. Take care and have a safe, wonderful holiday!