Burgers. Hot dogs. Barbecues. The unofficial end of summer. Labor Day means a lot to us in how we think about and celebrate it. But where did it come from? And what does it mean? As we roll into the weekend, here are 5 fun facts about Labor Day.
1. Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894.
Labor Day became a national holiday when President Grover Cleveland signed it into law in 1894. The proposal suggested that the holiday should be celebrated with parades and parties that demonstrate "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations."
2. Workers unions advocated not only for a holiday, but for other policies to protect workers.Before the rise of organized labor in the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. And children as young as 5 years old worked in mills, factories, and mines across the country, earning lesser wages. Unions organized workers to demand better conditions.
3. Labor Day's calendar timing was strategic.
You can thank workers' unions for the timing of Labor Day. While advocating for weekends—rather than a 7-day work week, they chose the first Monday in September because it was about halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
4. Labor Day is very different from most other holidays.
Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, recapped the difference between Labor Day and many other days, as follows:
"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day... is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."
5. Two people with same-sounding names are credited with the first Labor Day event.
Who started the first Labor Day celebration in 1882 in New York? It's inconclusive. It's either Matthew Maguire, a machinist, or Peter McGuire, a carpenter. Maguire and McGuire were from rival unions, and because their last name sounds identical, historians don't know which to credit, so cheers to both!
We hope you enjoy your day off for Labor Day. As part of the powerful, resilient American workforce, you've certainly earned it!