A Brief History of Labor Day

Wonder why we celebrate Labor Day? Check out a brief history of Labor Day to get to the bottom of this all important question.

In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was in full force with the average American working 12-hour days every day of the week in order to make a living. Children also worked because they were cheap labor and there were no child labor laws. Because of the long hours and less-than-ideal working conditions, labor unions became more prominent and started pushing for a better way of life. Their efforts included going on strike and establishing a more public presence, which led to Labor Day.

The first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City, when 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square. Those who participated took a day off without pay and voiced their demands. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the official holiday, and the Central Labor Union, who organized the first Labor Day, encouraged organizations in other cities to celebrate the workingman's holiday on that specific date. The concept spread throughout the country and was celebrated in most major industrial cities.

The first state law recognizing Labor Day was passed by Oregon in 1887. That same year, four more states, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, recognized Labor Day. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday, and in June Congress passed a federal act, making the first Monday in September a legal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill right after sending troops to quell a strike against the Pullman railroad company.

Labor Day used to be celebrated by a street parade formed by members of the community, as well as a festival for workers and their families. However, as union membership has declined in the United States, Labor Day in recent years has evolved into a prime recreational holiday, but the holiday still honors the American worker by giving everyone a paid day off.

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