A Labor Day History

For all my history buffs out there, here are some interesting facts about Labor Day and the origins of the holiday.

The Early American Working Conditions

Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It is traditionally the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894.

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories, and mines across the country.  Because of their young age, they earned a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.

People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities, and breaks.

Labor unions first appeared in the late 18th century.  As manufacturing increasingly replaced agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions grew more important and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.

Many of these events turned violent during this period.  On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.  This was the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.

Making Labor Day a Legal Holiday

In the wake of the massive unrest, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.  And on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.

Many credit Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor.  Others have suggested that Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first proposed the holiday.

Todays Celebrations

Labor Day weekend symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans.  It is celebrated with parties, street parades, and athletic events.  This year may be a little different with Covid.  But let’s take a moment to remember the reason behind Labor Day.  And be thankful for all the Americans working diligently to help end the Covid pandemic.

Happy Labor Day Summerville!


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