Most of us celebrate the first Monday in September by enjoying a day off from work, but here’s what you should know about Labor day.
As you pause each year to mark another one, do you ever wonder how that day off came to be?
Here are 10 facts about the day that might help you appreciate it that much more.
1. The day honors the U.S. workforce.
The U.S. Department of Labor says the day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, meant to serve as a tribute to “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
2. The creator of the holiday is in dispute.
It’s probably not a surprise that there’s a debate about the person most responsible for creating the idea. The Department of Labor says there are generally two accepted possible founding fathers for the holiday.
The first is Peter McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Some records suggest he’s the first one to suggest the holiday.
But the other possible creator was a machinist named Matthew Maguire, who later became the secretary of a New Jersey chapter of the International Association of Machinists. Some records, according to the labor department, suggest Maguire is the one who first suggested the holiday in New York in 1882, the same year it was first celebrated.
So whether it’s McGuire or Maguire, we owe a debt of thanks to one or the other — or both.
3. The first Labor Day was celebrated at the local level.
Labor Day was a holiday that began with municipal celebrations long before there was a national holiday set aside to celebrate the nation’s labor force. The first Labor Day celebration, in the form of a parade, was held in New York City on September 5, 1882, a Tuesday. Some 10,000 workers marched that day.
4. Oregon was the first to pass a state law celebrating Labor Day.
In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. New York was the first state to introduce such a bill, but Oregon’s was passed first. Within that same year, New York and three other states — Colorado, Massachusetts and New Jersey — passed similar measures.
5. It took another seven years before it became a national holiday.
Congress officially made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894. By then, 30 of the then-44 states had already passed state holiday bills.
6. The federal holiday came about after a bloody fight over wages.
A deadly confrontation may have helped inspire Congress to make Labor Day a federal holiday. It happened in Pullman, Chicago, home of the Pullman Company, maker of luxury railroad cars.
When the economy tanked in the 1890s, Pullman decided to lower wages to cut costs. But they didn’t lower rent for their employees who mostly lived in company owned dorms, apartments and houses.
Worker pay was slashed by 30% and they finally decided to go on strike. President Grover Cleveland sent in federal troops and rioting broke out. In the end, 30 people were killed.
The passage of the Labor Day holiday legislation seems to have been an attempt to reconcile with the labor movement.
7. Workdays were a lot longer when Labor Day began.
If you think that eight-hour day at the office makes you tired, listen up! In the late 1880s, the average workday for American workers was 12 hours long and in some cases, it was seven days a week!
It wasn’t until September 3, 1916, that the Adamson Act established an eight-hour workday along with the possibility of additional pay for overtime. The act was specifically designed to protect interstate railroad workers, but it served as the blueprint for labor relations that shortened the workday (and workweek) for everyone.
8. It used to be time for Jerry Lewis and friends.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on a full decade since the late Jerry Lewis last hosted a Labor Day telethon.
From 1966 until 2010, the frenetic Lewis spent 21 hours from the Sunday before Labor Day into the early evening of Monday raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Over those years, the annual event raised about $2.5 billion for the MDA.
Lewis was a controversial figure and was known to go off-script and often make comments that ruffled many a feather. But he brought together huge names year after year to help “Jerry’s Kids.”
After the 2010 telethon, Lewis and the MDA parted ways, though no one has said exactly why. The telethon shrunk from 21 hours to 6, then to 3 and then to 2 before leaving the airwaves altogether.
9. It’s considered the end of summer…at least for fashion.
Though the rules surrounding the holiday and the color white have relaxed a bit over the years, it’s traditionally the day at which the summer fashion season ends. That means you’re supposed to switch your wardrobe from the white and light colors of summer to darker, warmer colors of fall.
The rule is believed to have begun with the high-and-mighty society ladies who were always looking to find ways to disqualify the nouveau riche from joining their ranks. Creating rules like this provided quick and easy ways to keep some out of their exclusive, if petty, clicks.
10. It’s also considered the end of hot dog season.
The holiday, presumably the last “official” occasion for cookouts, marks the end of hot dog season. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans consume a whopping 7 billion hot dogs. That’s according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. (Who knew such an organization actually existed?!)
Regardless of how you celebrate (or what you wear or have to eat), I hope you have a great Labor Day!