With many Americans looking forward to a long weekend and a day off from work on Monday, we thought that it would be fun to take a look at the history and origination of our beloved “end of summer” holiday: Labor Day. This day was created to celebrate the American worker and the trade and labor groups that support them.
Observance of the Labor Day holiday evolved over a period of years as attention was drawn to labor-related causes. Nineteenth-century American society often embraced the idea of having parades, picnics and other celebrations in support of labor issues, such as shorter hours or to rally strikers. But most historians agree that one pivotal event – a parade of unions and a massive picnic that took place in New York City on September 5, 1882 – was the true starting point for what we know now as Labor Day.
“A general holiday for the workingmen in this city.”
At that time, the labor movement was growing stronger. Many of the unions in New York prospered by joining together into one Central Labor Union made up of members from many local unions. On May 14, 1882, a proposal was made at the Central Labor Union meeting that all workers should join together for a “monster labor festival” in early September. A committee of five people was appointed to find a park for the celebration. They chose Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue, the largest park in New York City at that time; the date was set for Tuesday, September 5. By June, they had sold 20,000 tickets with the proceeds going to each local union selling them. In August, the Central Labor Union passed a resolution “that the 5th of September be proclaimed a general holiday for the workingmen in this city.”
A day of the people
At first, they were afraid that the celebration was going to be a failure. Many of the workers in the parade had to lose a day’s pay in order to participate. When the parade began, only a handful of workers were in it, while hundreds of people stood on the sidewalk jeering at them. But then slowly they came – 200 workers and a band from the Jewelers’ Union showed up and joined the parade. Then came a group of bricklayers with another band. By the time they reached the park, it was estimated that there were 10,000 marchers in the parade in support of workers.
The park was decorated with flags of many nations. Everyone picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership. In the evening, even more people came to the park to watch fireworks and dance. The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and “a day of the people.”
Labor Day is established
After that major event in New York City, other localities began to pick up the idea for a fall festival of parades and picnics celebrating workers. Encouraged by the labor movement, Labor Day’s first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886, followed by an Oregon state bill in 1887. On June 28, 1894, Congress made it a federal holiday and designated the first Monday in September as its official date.
However you spend your Labor Day holiday, we hope you enjoy a well earned day off!