The inception of Labor Day

In 1894 the day became a federal holiday to celebrate workers.

Labor Day takes place on the first Monday of September to honor the contributions and achievements of American workers. It originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution the average American worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week to make a living, according to History.com. It adds that despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 years old worked mills, factories and mines across the country, earning less than their adult counterparts. 

People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often worked in extremely unsafe conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, bathroom facilities and breaks.

During the 18th century, labor unions began to form and in the late 1800s they started organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.

Many of these events turned violent, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago police officers and workers were killed. On Sept. 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade.

This workingmen’s holiday, which was celebrated on the first Monday in September, became popular across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress legalized the holiday 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights into the public’s view. 

Eugene V. Debs organized the Pullman Strike in 1894, a nationwide protest that resulted in federal labor laws to protect workers. The strike brought the economy to a standstill and spurred President Grover Cleveland to make Labor Day a national holiday. 

History.com adds that following this unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. On June 28, 1894, Cleveland signed it into law. 

Labor Day Celebrations:

Today Labor Day is celebrated in cities and towns across the U.S. with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings. It is also considered the unofficial end of summer.


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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.