(WETM) – Summer is winding down, and for many parents and children, Labor Day means school is just around the corner. But how did Labor Day start and what is the national holiday all about?
The U.S. Department of Labor says that Labor Day “is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.” It started in the late 1800s when activists pushed for a federal holiday to acknowledge their contributions.
At the height of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s, the average American worked 12 hours days, and seven days weeks in order to make ends meet. The working class was made up of all ages, some children even as young as five years old, working in unsafe conditions.
New York State was the first state to introduce a bill to recognize Labor Day, but Oregon was the first to pass any law, the DOL said. The holiday was celebrated by labor activists and states years before it became a federally-recognized day. But in 1894, the U.S. Congress passed a law marking the first Monday of September as Labor Day.
The DOL also said that it’s unclear whether Peter McGuire (co-founder of the American Federation of Labor) or Matthew Macguire (a machinist) first proposed the holiday in 1882. Both men attended the first-ever Labor Day parade in New York City that year. 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, marking the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.