Today, the US celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September to commemorate the social and economic achievements of American workers, but did you know it had been a federal holiday since 1894? That’s just 24 years after Independence Day and Christmas became federal holidays.
Back before it was a federal holiday, Oregon was the first state to recognize Labor Day in 1887. Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York followed later that year. 26 more states had recognized the holiday before it was federally recognized on June 28, 1894.
Although we know when different states adopted the holiday, the question of who came up with Labor Day is a bit more complicated. Some records show that the idea for a day celebrating labor was conceived by the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Peter J. McGuire in 1882, while others show that machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, Matthew Maguire, proposed the idea. Regardless, both Maguires attended the first Labor Day parade in New York that year.
As with many important labor law changes, unions played a big role in the establishment of Labor Day. The Pullman railroad strike was what pushed President Grover Cleveland to create a federal holiday celebrating labor. Today, unions remain influential forces in the lives of many American workers. One study shows that households with at least one union member had an average poverty rate of 5.9 percent, compared to 18.9 percent for households without a unionized worker.
Whether you’re a worker, a parent, a student, or a caregiver, we hope you enjoy the holiday and celebrate all the hard work you do!
Image source: US Department of Labor