SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Labor Day is a welcomed break and a long weekend for many across the United States. It’s the final holiday of the summer and the last break before Thanksgiving in November. But what is Labor Day and why do we celebrate it?
Before it was a federal holiday, Labor Day was recognized only by activists and a select few individual states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Now, it’s an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers and a recognition of their contributions to the nation.
The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882. It was celebrated with parades, parties, and festivals for “the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.” Though, it didn’t quite go off without a hitch.
Police were out in force, in fear a riot would break out. What’s worse, the parade had “few marchers” who had shown up with no music. The U.S. Department of Labor said many had suggested giving up the parade, but parade Grand Marshall William McCabe was determined and his determination paid off. Nearly 200 marchers from the Jewelers Union of Newark had arrived with a band to join the march.
In the end, nearly 25,000 union members and their families filled Reservoir Park in New York and celebrated Labor Day.
Labor Day celebrations slowly trickled across the nation. Oregon was the first to pass a law recognizing the holiday in 1887. Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York each followed soon after. By the beginning of 1894, 23 more states recognized Labor Day.
It wasn’t until June 28, 1894 the first Monday in September was officially recognized as a federal holiday celebrating America’s workers.
Who is the founder of Labor Day? That’s a contested issue.
Two American workers have a strong claim to be the Founder of Labor Day, says the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Department says some records show Peter J. McGuire, who was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joins and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor suggested putting a day aside to celebrate workers. McGuire reportedly wanted a “general holiday for the laboring classes” to honor those who have “delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
Other records show machinist Matthew Maguire is the true founder of Labor Day. Maguire reportedly proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
The U.S. Department of Labor says recent research seems to support Maguire as the true founder, but both Maguire and McGuire were in attendance at the first Labor Day parade in New York that year.