Bet You Didn’t Know is a new series all about exploring the different holidays we celebrate and why exactly we observe them. We dive deep into these important occasions to find out why we honor them while sharing their history and purpose. Get ready to be surprised!
Every one of us has probably basked in the glory of the one day a year we all know and love.
That’s right, we’re talking about Labor Day—the nationally recognized holiday that we celebrate on the first Monday of September every single year.
Labor Day is often much looked forward to for folks who appreciate a Monday off work and spent with loved ones and is often punctuated by a fun activity, delicious food, and other holiday-esque events we look forward to every year. Often, Labor Day Weekend is also considered the official end of summertime, marking the close of a few months filled with sunshine and fun, quickly being traded in for school, responsibility, and cooler weather.
But Labor Day is more than just sitting poolside and saluting to the end of a sunny season.
We celebrate Labor Day for very important, historical reasons. In fact, this holiday is rooted in crucial history, in sacrifice, and even in massive unrest.
So, ask yourself—in between bites of your favorite summertime treat—do you really know the meaning of Labor Day?
If not, don’t sweat it—we’re here to help.
Labor Day: An End-of-Summer Celebration to Honor Our Workforce
Technically, Labor Day is an official recognition of the social and economic achievements of American workers, one that’s recognized annually in tribute to the contribution’s workers have made to the prosperity, strength, and well-being of the United States.
As a federally recognized holiday, it’s one of the 10 holidays that the U.S. government recognizes, meaning (in most cases), offices are closed, establishments are shut down, and people are free to enjoy their Labor Day as they please.
Though this is a holiday that’s been recognized for over 125 years and is firmly rooted in tradition, the evolutions and iterations of how we celebrate it have changed over time.
In fact, the first Labor Day, which was held on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City before it was an official holiday (that came later in 1894 when it was signed into law courtesy of President Grover Cleveland).
The History and Origination of Labor Day
In the 1800s—the height of the Industrial Revolution—the working class in the United States were overworked, exhausted, and rarely receiving the recognition (or time to rest) that they deserved.
Many workers were putting in 70-hour workweeks, 12-hour days, weren’t given access to union coverage, and often faced extremely unsafe, unhealthy working conditions. It’s said that even children (5-6 years old, sometimes) toiled in factories, mills, and mins to make a fraction of what adults were making.
Over time, the demand for workers only grew, the conditions worsened, and nationally, workers began to get fed up. Labor unions popped up much more frequently and grew to become vocal, powerful, and prominent. Gradually, they began organizing strikes, rallies, and protests, hoping to make changes, compel employers to improve conditions, and to moderate hours while increasing pay.
As time pressed on and unrest grew, a few different things happened as a result. Sometimes, these protests and riots came to several dangerous heads, including hazardous strikes like the Pullman Railroad Strikes and fatal outbreaks like the Haymarket Riot.
But other riots and protests helped create the path for what would become the longstanding tradition of Labor Day.
On September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day occurred. Nearly 10,000 workers went on strike, taking unpaid time off to march in New York City from City Hall to Union Square, officially hosting the first Labor Day parade in United States history.
Creating Labor Day Took Hard Work
This “workingmen’s holiday” concept caught on fast and though it would take over a decade for the federal government to legalize the holiday, workers across the country honored it without the federal government’s support.
By 1894, more than 20 other states had adopted this holiday, but that wouldn’t last much longer. Following a famous strike in May of 1894 that led to an effective boycott that crippled traffic nationwide and unleashed a wave of fatal riots, the massive unrest led to the official recognition of Labor Day by the federal government.
On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law that instituted the first Monday in September of each year as the nationally recognized holiday of Labor Day.
Through the years, our iterations of Labor Day have changed, and somewhere along the line, some of us either forgot or were never taught the true origins of Labor Day.
Enjoying Your Labor Day
What are your Labor Day plans? Whether you’re spending it poolside, out on a hike, gathered with friends, taking a much-deserved day of rest, or learning more about Labor Day’s history, we want to hear about it. Share in our comments section below!
And don’t forget, Labor Day is made even more beautiful with a thoughtful addition to any party, event, or soiree you might be attending. Check out our Labor Day collection here for fun gift ideas to bring a little something extra to your Labor Day celebration.