History fun time with your friendly neighborhood history geek.
The last two decades of the 1800’s saw the rise of the labor movement. During the 1870s, union leader Matthew Maguire led many strikes to make the public aware of the struggles of a union worker; long hours and little pay. While some business owners and corporate bosses were fair, a sad number of them took advantage of their employees’ need to work, knowing that the employee was faced with the choice of working long hours or starving to death, and so made the employee work long hours for unfair wages, mere pennies a day compared to today’s income. The movement wasn’t as popular at first. Many workers were afraid to rally should they get fired by their employers, but over time, more and more workers joined the movement, knowing it was time to stand up to their bosses.
September 5th, 1882, saw the very first Labor Day, organized in New York City by another union leader, the secretary of the Central Labor Union, by the name of Peter McGuire. McGuire was a young man, son of immigrants, who had quit school to work; a tough choice that many underprivileged people were faced with, as without education it was difficult to find employ that paid well.
The government recognized Labor Day in 1885 and 1886. Oregon was the first state to enact the holiday by law in 1887, and 23 other states followed suit. With over half of the country making Labor Day a statewide holiday, Congress passed the law in 1894, making the first Monday of September of every year as the day to honor labor nationwide.
Happy Labor Day! (pictured below, the first Labor Day parade held in 1882, when it was still an unofficial holiday)