Labor Day – History and Trivia

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Hi! Winnie Griggs here.
In honor of today being Labor Day, I thought I’d give you some history and trivia I dug up surrounding this holiday.

The U.S. is not the only or even the first country to set aside an observance for the working class. The observance, as we know it, originated in Canada in the 1870s. A number of European countries have May Day celebrations that have a similar focus.

As for who initially proposed Labor Day in this country, opinions are split. Most historians consider Peter McGuire the Father of Labor Day in the U.S. He was an Irish-American cabinet maker who was also the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. But there is another camp who contends it was actually a different McGuire – a machinist named Matthew McGuire – who was responsible.

Without labor nothing prospers.
~Sophocles

The first Labor Day celebration in the U.S. was celebrated on September 5, 1882 (which was a Tues. by the way, not a Monday). It was held in New York City’s Union Square and was designed to ease tensions with city workers after numerous strikes and outbreaks of violence.

The first Labor Day parade was held the following year in September of 1883. More than 10,000 workers took an unpaid holiday in order to participate. The event was in actuality a rally of laborers calling for an 8 hour work day (at this time 12 hour work days were the norm).

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.
~Ovid

Though the movement started in the east, the first state to declare Labor Day a state Holiday was Oregon. From there it moved to Colorado, New York and Massachusetts. So you can say it had a west to east progression.

It was 12 years after that first celebration, in June of 1894, that Labor Day became a national holiday. Grover Cleveland was President at the time. He was a staunch opponent of organized labor groups but he actually pushed hard for this in an attempt to quell the unrest that was erupting in labor riots across the nation.

By the time Labor Day was declared a federal holiday, it was already a state holiday in thirty states.

If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end,
it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.
~Doug Larson

Other Fun Facts:

  • The old-school rule about not wearing white after labor day is thought to have to do with the fact that in earlier years, the wealthy wore white linen suite and Panama hats as they escaped to fancy summer resorts. When they returned to the sooty, dusty, grimier cities of the work-a-day world, they once again donned their drabber clothing.
  • The first Waffle House restaurant opened for business on Labor Day in 1955.
  • Once touted as a day to celebrate the working class, Labor Day has taken on the added significance of being a day that marks the following milestones:
    • The end of summer
    • The beginning of the school year
    • The unofficial kickoff of the NFL season
    • And, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, hot dog season begins on Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day.
  • According to U.S. Highway accident stats, Labor Day weekend is one of the most dangerous weekends to be on the road. The likely cause – many high schoolers and collegians consider it the last party weekend before heading back to school.
  • Labor Day ranks third in the list of popular days for barbecuing, right behind Independence Day and Memorial Day.

There you have it, the highlights I discovered when digging through the facts and lore surrounding Labor Day.

So were any of these footnotes new to you?  And do you do anything special to celebrate the day?

Winnie Griggs
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.
Updated: September 1, 2013 — 8:51 pm

22 Comments

  1. Hi, Winnie!

    Interesting post – I hadn’t heard that the first Labor Day celebration in the U.S. was in connection with the tensions of the New York city workers.

    I enjoyed the fun facts about Labor Day!

    Thanks!

  2. Hi Winnie, thank you for the trivia.

    I always thought the day should be dedicated to women and what they went through to become mothers.

    As for school: It’s been in session around here for several weeks now and I think it’s a crime. In protest I intend to wear my white shoes until October.

    Happy Labor Day!

  3. I’m with you, Margaret. Except I think Labor Day is the day we “labor” the most getting all the party stuff ready. lol

    Thanks for an excellent post, Winnie.

  4. Winnie, several of these things I didn’ know. I love the Waffle House 🙂

  5. oops…should have been “didn’t” instead of “didn'”

  6. Winnie, I love all the info. I grew up hearing that no white should be worn after Labor Day so I pretty much do that but I have noticed that I see white all year long now. Things sure change! I wish our schools would go back to starting after Labor Day. Thank you for the interesting post!

  7. Great trivia, Winnie. And school has already started here in Utah, too. In deadline mode here, so my day will be spent “laboring” at the computer.
    Wishing Fillies and our wonderful readers a happy holiday!

  8. Very surprised to know that Labour Day originated in Canada. A piece of my Canadian history that I did not know. Thanks for sharing this with us. I know that we loved to stay up at the cottage until the last minute we could to enjoy our last holiday weekend. Those were the days when you wanted to delay the start of the school year, as kids in Canada started school the day after Labour day.

    Have a good one where every you are and what every you are doing on this last official weekend of summer.

  9. Hi Bonnie – glad you enjoyed the post!

    Hi Margaret – LOL about women in labor. We females do strongly relate that word labor to something very specific don’t we!

  10. Hi Tracy – we used to do the barbecue cook-out thing for Labor Day, and yes I spent a lot of time on the prep work even though hubby got all the credit for the meal . But these days we keep things pretty low key and both take it easy.

  11. No plans. Interesating facts, Winnie.

  12. Hi Sheila – glad you enjoyed the post. And I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten at a Waffle House…

    Melanie – you’re quite welcome! And yes it’s interesting to look back and see how many customs have changed just in our own lifetimes.

  13. I love the history and fun facts and look forward to passing them on today. Thank you so much for sharing!

  14. Hi Elizabeth – yep, school has been in session down here for a couple of weeks as well. I really feel for those students who have to go to sports and band practice in this summer heat – I wish they’d move it back to after labor day again.

  15. Hi Kathleen – glad I was able to teach you a little something new! And I remember those final days of summer as a child as well, when we’d try to stretch the days out as long as we could.

  16. Hi Winnie,
    Great Labor Day post. I especially enjoyed those “Other fun facts” that you posted. My husband also had Friday off this weekend-doesn’t get much better than a four day weekend! We have had a great time swimming with the kids, relaxing, watching football and last night we took the kids to their first drive-in movie.

  17. Hi anon – thanks for stopping by!

    Hello Britney A. – you’re quite welcome – glad you enjoyed the post!

  18. Hi Brittany – Thanks! Four day weekends are great – it sounds like you are definitely making the most of yours. And I didn’t realize they even HAD drive-in movies any more! I have great memories of those from my childhood.

  19. Thanks for all the great information on Labor Day. I had heard a few of these details before, but you added so much more. Interesting that a movement started by labor to better their working conditions was completed by politicians trying to “head them off.”

    We usually get together as a family and have a cook out. The last place we lived, our church had an annual Labor Day chicken Bar-B-Q. It has been going on for about 170+ years. We used to help out. I miss it, but it is a 7 or 8 hour drive. Not a drive I want to make on Labor Day Weekend.

  20. Hi Patricia, thanks for dropping by. Glad you enjoyed the post. We had a pretty quiet Labor Day here at my house as well.

  21. Thanks for the fun history lesson. Ü

  22. Hi Cindi, thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the post!

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