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History of Labor Day

Construction site
The history of Labor Day in the United States.

What Is Labor Day?

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States and other Western countries that honors laborers’ contribution to our society. Outside of the United States, it is known as International Labor Day.

Factory worker
Labor honors the contribution of American workers to society at large.

When Is Labor Day?

A common feature of summers in North America is the two federal holidays that bookend the summer. At the end of May, Memorial Day begins the summer, and at the beginning of September, Labor Day ushers in the fall.

Labor Day Weekend

In the U.S., Labor Day comes on the first Monday of September, and we call the extended weekend Labor Day weekend.

Pick-up truck
Labor Day weekend is eagerly anticipated by workers nationwide.

Labor Day History

Labor Day officially became a recognized federal holiday on June 28th, 1894, but nearly a half-century of history surrounding the labor movement precedes this official recognition.

Its roots date back to the industrial revolution in the United States and the rise of labor unions.

Labor Day’s origins stem from the Central Labor Union (CLU) and the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor.

The history of Labor Day is rooted in the Industrial Revolution.

Labor movement

The Knights of Labor operated secretly, but the CLU was a centralized organization for multiple labor organizations throughout New York City. 

On Tuesday, September 5th, 1882, the Knights of Labor and the Central Labor Union organized a parade to commemorate labor contributions and bring attention to the needs of the American worker. 

The following year, on September 5th, the CLU held another parade.

Labor Union rally
Labor Unions remain a powerful force in modern day America.

Labor activists

With these demonstrations’ success, Matthew Maguire, the secretary of the CLU, advocated for an annual labor day holiday to be held every year on the first Monday of September to be celebrated with picnics and a labor day parade.

Other labor leaders began to advocate for similar events. Peter J. McGuire, vice president of the American Federation of Labor, started pushing labor unions to organize their own events after witnessing labor parades when visiting Toronto.

American labor

Traditionally in Europe, May 1st had been the date to commemorate the rights and needs of labor. May Day, as May 1st was called, was also proposed as a day to promote laborers’ needs and was often called International Workers’ Day. 

May Day
Labor Day has been traditionally celebrated on May 1st (May Day) in Europe.

The day was proposed at the 1885 convention of the American Federation of Labor as the date for coordinated strikes to bring attention to improving conditions of the American worker, such as adopting the eight-hour workday. 

The May 1st date became politically charged in 1886 after the Haymarket Riot on May 4th.

Debate ensued over which date, May 1st, with organized strikes or the first Monday of September with parades and picnics, was the best date to emphasize the needs of workers. 

National holiday

Across the United States, various states began to hold labor day events. Oregon became the first to pass a law on February 21st, 1887, to create a labor day. 

President Grover Cleveland
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed its legislation into law.

Soon other states followed, with Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York creating a Labor Day holiday that same year. More states followed suit so that by 1894, twenty-three states had adopted a laborers’ holiday. 

Soon Congress passed legislation to create a national holiday. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law, designating the first Monday of September as a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

At first, Labor Day only applied to federal workers, but later was expanded to include all workers.

Labor Day Traditions

The holiday has since been expanded to be recognized as a day when businesses, banks, schools, and government offices would be closed so that employees and their families can enjoy a multitude of labor day events. 

Red, white, and blue cocktail
Labor Day weekend offers an excellent opportunity to unwind.

Today, Labor Day remains a day dedicated to recognizing the achievements of American workers and their invaluable contribution to American society.

Like Independence Day and Columbus Day, the Labor Day celebration is widely enjoyed.

Dates of Labor Day

When is Labor Day 2022?: September 5th

When is Labor Day 2023?: September 4th

When is Labor Day 2024?: September 2nd

When is Labor Day 2025?: September 1st

When is Labor Day 2026?: September 7th

When is Labor Day 2027?: September 6th

When is Labor Day 2028?: September 4th

When is Labor Day 2029?: September 3rd

When is Labor Day 2030?: September 1st

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