Why You're Not At Work Today: The History Of Labor Day

While you’re lolling about by the grill and enjoying that frosty beer, you should know why it is your hard work is celebrated on the first day of September every year. Let’s learn about Labor Day, shall we? And pass the chips.

The United States Department of Labor site details the long history of Labor Day, which grew out of the labor movement and is all about us, the Americans working hard across all fields of labor.

The first time Labor Day was observed was September 5, 1882, in New York City. Even though we’ve been celebrating it all that time, no one is exactly sure who first had the idea to do it. Some records point to Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, as the first to suggest it in 1882.

But others believe it was a different man, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who founded the holiday. He was eventually the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., and researchers say he thought of Labor Day while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

No matter who came up with it, the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and told a committee to start planning a celebration. In turn, the Central Labor Union started urging other organizations in cities across the country to hold Labor Day demonstrations as well. Who doesn’t like a nice picnic, right?

Moving from state laws in New york, Colorado, Massachusetts and others, the Labor Day holiday spread across the country, until June 28, 1894, when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

For more info and pictures chronicling the history of Labor day throughout the years, check out the DOL’s Labor Day 2011 official site. Here’s to you, American workers!

The History of Labor Day [U.S. DOL]