History of a Holiday: Labor Day

So, what are we celebrating?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day is "a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

There's an ongoing debate about who actually came up with the idea of a "workingmen's holiday". But the celebration started in local labor unions, back when laborers often worked sixteen-hour days under harsh conditions for little pay. The first Labor Day celebration took place in New York in 1882 with a 10,000-man parade designed to show the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," and it was followed by a festival for the amusement of the workers and their families.

In the following years, labor unions from other industrial cities adopted the idea, and in 1887 Oregon became the first state to pass Labor Day into state law, and 29 other states followed suit. Then in 1894, anxious to restore feelings of goodwill after the violent Pullman Strike, where laborers protested against the giant railroad companies, Congress rushed and unanimously passed legislation, and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law, making the first Monday in September a federal holiday.

So whether you're soaking up that last bit of summer sunshine, serving up some barbeque, or hitting the big sales, take a moment to look around you and give a little shout out to the people who make it all possible, the hardworking people who have built, and who continue to build, the greatest country in the world.

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