Saturday, September 5, 2009

History of Labor Day

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is known for many things: Cookouts, a day off from work, the end of summer, and the day after which you can no longer wear white pants. The U.S. Department of Labor describes the true reason for the season, however, as a tribute to "the social and economic achievements of American workers [and their contributions to] the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country."

Believe it or not, the first Labor Day was actually held on a Tuesday. On September 5, 1882, the Central Labor Union organized a march of approximately 10,000 workers in New York City. The workers took an unpaid day off from work and marched from City Hall to Union Square. They did the same thing in 1883 and similar events were held in other cities in following years. The Examiner describes the early Labor Day events as more like protests than celebrations.

Labor Day initially became a formal holiday through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. Five states passed legislation recognizing Labor Day in 1887 (Pennsylvania first celebrated the holiday on September 2, 1889). The holiday continued to spread and in 1894 Congress made Labor Day a legal holiday in D.C. and the territories.

According to the Department of Labor web site, the first proposal for the holiday outlined the observance and celebration of Labor Day:

"a street parade to exhibit to the public 'the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations' of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families."
Today, many of us celebrate Labor Day a little differently. Or perhaps, for many of us, we celebrate in much the same way. No matter how you celebrate, have a safe and happy Labor Day!

Public Domain photo - Image of meat cutters wearing checkered overcoats marching in a Labor Day parade in Chicago, Illinois - Library of Congress.