Schools are closed, most workers have the day off, and many are organizing or attending backyard barbecues later today. But why? Yes, it’s Labor Day. Yes, that means no work, school, or general obligations. But why? What does “Labor Day” really mean?
According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day “is the creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Labor Day has been celebrated in America for more than one hundred years. Doubt remains about who first proposed the holiday. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to suggest the idea.
Many believe however, that a machinist, Matthew Maguire, founded the holiday. Recent research shows that he may have proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of Central Labor Union in New York. What is known is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.
The Central Labor Union held the first Labor Day on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. Just one year, later, on September 5, 1883, they held their second. In 1884, the first Monday in September was chosen as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged other cities to follow the example New York City had set. The idea spread and by 1885, many industrial centers in the country celebrated Labor Day.
The first governmental recognition of Labor Day came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. The first state bill was introduced in New York, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania did the same. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday and on June 28 that same year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” states the United States Department of Labor website.