5 Interesting Facts about Labor Day

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., which means it’s the last big hoorah before fall weather ends our summer fun and ushers in the school year and pumpkin spice lattes. 

We now celebrate this holiday with BBQs, pool parties, and weekends away with our families. 

But Labor Day has its roots in violent worker uprisings and was originally founded as a tribute to the achievements and contributions of the American worker. 

Keep reading for 5 interesting facts about Labor Day…

#1 How Labor Day Came to Be  

labor day facts

The holiday came out of the labor movement in the late 19th century. 

At the height of the Industrial Revolution, the average American worked 7 days a week for 12 hour a day. According to History, “Children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.”¹

Workers faced unsafe working conditions and lack of breaks, and their wages weren’t enough to make a decent living. 

The result was the rise of labor unions that started organizing strikes for better conditions and wages. Many of these strikes turned violent.

#2 Labor Day Was Celebrated Years Before It Officially Became a Federal Holiday

labor day facts

The first Labor Day holiday was organized by the Central Labor Union and first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City.² 

Unions of New York held a parade that included speeches, a picnic, and a concert. However, workers who attended had to give up a day’s pay to attend.³ 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, union members who did not join the parade came after work to celebrate and drink beer. And a lot of it. 

There were “lager beer kegs…mounted in every conceivable place,” and “From 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. that night, nearly 25,000 union members and their families filled the park and celebrated the very first, and almost entirely disastrous, Labor Day.”

#3 Oregon Led the Charge

labor day facts

In 1887, Oregon was the first state to declare Labor Day a holiday. 22 more states followed and adopted the holiday before it was made a federal holiday in 1894.⁵

#4 Labor Day Became a National Holiday in 1894

labor day facts

On June 28, 1894, Congress voted to have the first Monday in September a holiday for federal employees, and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.⁶

#5 It’s Unclear Who Founded Labor Day

labor day facts

It’s still not known who first proposed the holiday to celebrate America’s workers. 

Records show that Peter J McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, first proposed the idea. 

There is also documentation that shows Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union, first founded the holiday. 

According to History, “Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.”⁷

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Sources:

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day-1
  2. https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history#
  3. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day-1
  4. https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history-daze
  5. https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history#
  6. https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history#
  7. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day-1
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