September 1, 2016

Some Things You May Not Know About Labor Day


“Let us have, a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American Industry.” -Peter McGuire, May 18, 1882

Labor Day! A day we associate with hot weather, cool drinks, and one last celebration before the sober days of autumn are upon us. But Labor Day is more than just barbecues, Labor Day sales and unofficial end of summer. Here are a few things you may not have known about Labor Day.

For example, did you know the eight-hour work day wasn’t established until 1836, by Boston ship carpenters? Or that the first ever Labor Day parade took place on September 5, 1882 in New York City. That was before Labor Day was a federal holiday. How and when did it become a national celebration? Read on to find out.

A Brief History of Labor Day

Labor Day became an official American holiday in 1894, pushed by the labor movement. The reason Labor Day is marked by celebration and partying is because it was born out of a not-so-nice chapter in the history of the American workforce.

In the late 19th century, the average American worker labored for 12-hour days, seven days a week, just to get by. In some cases children as young as five years old worked in factories and mines, earning even less than the adults. These workers toiled in unsafe, unsanitary, sometimes dangerous conditions.

This began to change as labor unions became more outspoken about the rights of workers. Organized rallies and strikes began as early as 1882, in an attempt to change the dismal conditions of the American laborer. It was at this same time that Matthew Maguire, an American machinist and labor unionist, proposed Labor Day as a national celebration.

The idea gained traction and became a public holiday, first in Oregon, then in several other states. By 1894, it was a public holiday in thirty states. While there was some resistance and challenges, the tough American worker persevered, as always.  Labor Day was made a federal holiday in all fifty states by unanimous vote on June 28, 1894.

Since then, Labor Day has become an occasion to mark the achievements of the American worker, both economic and social. It’s a day to pay tribute to how far we’ve come from the troubled days of the Industrial Revolution, and the contributions workers have made to the American economy and culture.

Interesting facts about Labor Day

  • Labor Day is the official last day of hot dog season. Also, there’s an official hot dog season.
  • Other countries have a Labor Day, but most choose to celebrate it on May 1.
  • These days, it takes the average American 30 minutes to get to work.
  • Chain restaurant Waffle House opened its first location on Labor Day.
  • Maguire proposed Labor Day after seeing an annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada. That’s right, our all-American holiday is of Canadian origin!
  • The initial proposal of the holiday contained the outline that is still observed to this day: a parade on the day of the occasion, followed by a party or festival for workers and their families. Before the 1960s, the day focused on marches for unionism and worker solidarity; these days, it’s all about the backyard barbecues.
  • There is some historical disagreement over who is the actual father of Labor day. According to some, Irish-American cabinet maker Peter McGuire first proposed Labor Day as a holiday in 1882, not Matthew Maguire.
  • The tradition of not wearing white after Labor Day came from the upper class of the late 19th and early 20th century. As more people became wealthy after the Civil War, the families of high society had to find ways to distinguish themselves. The “no white after Labor Day” rule was created as a way of distinguishing “old money” from new. The rule eventually took on a life of its own, but in the twenty-first century, nobody really cares anymore.

In a way, the history of Labor Day is much like the story of the United States itself. Through tough times we work hard together to make things better for everybody.

If you have one last trip you want to take at the end of this year, Labor Day weekend might be the perfect time to start planning your journey. Metropolitan Shuttle is here to help.

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