Labor Day Then and Now

Barbecues, beach days, parties, picnics, and plenty of outdoor activities with family and friends, is usually how most Americans spend their Labor Day holiday weekend.

9-3 bbq

But Labor Day had a more serious tone when the holiday was established more than a century ago in the United States. The day was set aside as an annual celebration of American workers and their efforts during a time when the average American worked 12 hours daily, seven days a week. Labor Day became a U.S. federal holiday in 1894.

The origins of Labor Day is rooted in a struggle to obtain workers’ rights. This important day stems from the labor movement in the late 19th century. It was in the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, when the average American laborer faced those long work hours plus extremely unsafe  — and in some cases, unsanitary —working conditions. Also at the time, there were the many children as young as 5 years old toiling away in mills, factories, and mines across the country.

9-3 children working

Labor unions began organizing strikes and rallies to protest the poor conditions, and to call for better pay and work hours. This led to a few violent riots, resulting in the deaths of workers and police officers. But also coming out of this dim period in the history of American labor was the concept of having a “workingmen’s holiday” — which eventually became Labor Day and celebrates all American workers.

Labor Day is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September. This year, the holiday falls on Sept. 3.

Did you know?

The first Labor Day occurred on Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City.

Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday in 1887.

People avoided wearing white clothing after Labor Day as it unofficially marked the end of summer.

Labor Day began in Toronto, Canada in 1872, but quickly made its way to the United States.

In other countries, May 1st (May Day) is the day working people are honored. The majority of Europe celebrates May Day.

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