From Speeches & Rallies to Cookouts and Boat Rides

The Evolution of Labor Day.

It took nine years, but we finally got a Monday off. Labor Day began as an activist holiday in 1885. Beginning with Oregon passing the Labor Day law over the years several other states followed suit. It was not until June 28, 1894 when Congress passed the act that every first Monday of September is a legal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the law.

“That the day was appreciated by the men and women whose lives are full of toil, was shown by the zest with which they entered into the day’s events. The streets  were crowded with eager throngs who had early taken points of vantage for the purpose of viewing the turnout of the union men.” – The Hawaiian Gazette, September 03, 1901

While historians are not positive about who created the idea of Labor Day, two men have come up as possibilities. The first man is Peter J. McGuire. He was a secretary at the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, as well as co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. The second man is Matthew Maguire. He too worked in general labor. Maguire was secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, and later secretary of the Local 344 International Association of Machinists. We may not know who the true founder was but both men had reputable experience to vouch for the working man in need of a holiday.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Labor Day was used to give speeches and parades to promote the significance of the holiday from an economic point of view. The day prior to Labor Day is known as Labor Sunday. This day is dedicated to the faith aspects of the labor movement. At this point in history, America was at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The standard of living had risen higher than ever before. Americans were working 12 hours a day – 7 days a week. Kids were often found working in factories as well. 

Working conditions created the need for Unions to grow and enforce safer working conditions. Strikes, rallies, and protests became more and more prominent throughout the states. The most infamous event to push the topic of Labor Day was the Haymarket Affair. On May 4, 1886 in Chicago a bomb was set off during a rally. A total of seven police officers and four others were killed. 

While today we may only see the day as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, we must not forget our history or how far we have come since those days. 

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.



Published by SmallBiz Staffing, LLC

Locally owned staffing company in Crossville, TN.

Leave a Reply