The History of Labor Day


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You work hard. And when Labor Day hits Sept. 4 you know it’s your day to celebrate your role in making our economy strong while you provide for your family. Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer with parades and barbecues and is a mainstay of American culture. But it wasn’t always that way on the first Monday of September.

Labor Day started at the state level. New York was the first state to introduce Labor Day legislation. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to pass it. By 1894, almost 30 states followed suit. But it took a tragedy to make it an officially recognized federal holiday.

Shortly after two striking workers were killed by the U.S. Army and U.S. Marshals Service during the Pullman Railcar Strike in 1894, Congress made Labor Day a national holiday with President Grover Cleveland’s urging as a gesture toward trade unionists.

Since then, all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories have made Labor Day a statutory holiday. Holiday creators envisioned a day of street parades by workers to “exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” to be followed by a celebration held for workers and their families. In years to follow Labor Day would grow to include speeches by public officials.

Enjoy your hard-earned day off this Labor Day, Mon., Sept. 4, and celebrate the power of solidarity with workers everywhere.


Photos from Reuther Library Archives

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