History of Labor Day

On Tuesday, September 5th, 1882, our nation celebrated its first Labor Day. Today, the holiday is held on the first Monday in September, and is a day of relaxation and celebration for many workers. A product of the labor movement of over 100 years ago, Labor Day commemorates the achievements of the American worker. According to the DOL, “it constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

There is still some debate over who originally proposed the holiday for laborers. The argument is between two men: Peter J. McGuire, who was both the cofounder of the American Federation of Labor as well as the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners; and Matthew Maguire, a machinist and the secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. Both men, extremely long titles aside, have been believed to play a part in the original Labor Day. Either way, we know for a fact that the Central Labor Union adopted a proposal for ‘Labor Day’; and on a September Tuesday in 1882, the first “workingmen’s holiday” was held in New York City.

It wasn’t held on Monday until 1884, and in 1885 it had officially taken off as a well-known holiday. On February 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to pass the law making Labor Day an official holiday by legislative enactment. By 1894, over 30 states had adopted the holiday and finally, on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday.

Guidelines on how the country should celebrate each Labor Day were laid out in the original proposal. The day would begin with a street parade to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations”; and afterwards, cities held festivals that served as amusement for the workers and their families. Later additions to festivities included speeches by prominent members of society and the adoption of Labor Sunday; the day before Labor Day, that was devoted to the “spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement”.

Though Labor Day has been evolving since its beginnings in the 1800s, its core values remain constant: to take a day to pay tribute to the American worker.

HR Strategies main office is closed today in honor of the holiday.

Happy Labor Day!

The information found in this summary can be found on the Department of Labor’s website: http://www.dol.gov/

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