How did Labor Day begin?
The Labor Day holiday is interesting because it evolved over a period of years. In 19th century America, there was already a tradition of having parades, picnics and various other celebrations in support of labor issues, such as shorter hours or to rally strikers. But most historians emphasize one specific event in the development of today’s modern Labor Day. That pivotal event was the parade of unions and a massive picnic that took place in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882.
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
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
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.
Who is the father of Labor Day?
When studying the history of Labor Day, two names stand out, and the funny thing is that they sound just alike. One is Peter J. McGuire, a leading official in the American Federation of Labor and organizer of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. The other is Matthew Maguire, a machinist from the Knights of Labor. The problem with declaring a single “founder” of Labor Day is that, at the time, no one realized that a new national holiday was being born. It was only after the fact that people tried to pinpoint a single founding father.
Seven years after that first New York Labor Day parade, the union journal for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters published an article claiming that their union brother, McGuire, made the original proposal to have the Labor Day event in New York and called for one day a year to be set aside as Labor Day. This article was reprinted yearly, and it became the common assumption that these were the facts.
However, in 1967, a retired machinist from Maguire’s union stepped up and claimed that his union brother was, in fact, the true originator of the movement for a national Labor Day. He pointed to an old newspaper article written nine years after the New York Labor Day parade titled “Labor Day: Its History and Development in the Land.” This article claimed that the first Secretary of the Central Labor Union,
So the historical conundrum seems to hinge on the fact that the two names sound alike and were probably mixed up in the common consciousness. Toss in the years of bitter rivalry between the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor and, of course, you’re going to have multiple heroes emerging in the legend of Labor Day.
When did it become a national holiday and why?
Labor Day as a national, legal holiday had an interesting evolution. The legalized celebration of Labor Day began as individual state celebrations. In 1887, New York, New Jersey
(By Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department of Labor’s historian)