What Is US Labor Day All About?

By | September 4, 2017

This day is quite different from many other American holidays, where they have military origins. This particular day though has different roots, obviously by the name of the day. So, what is the US Labor Day all about?

US Labor Day

Before you start reading this post, you may wish to watch a brief video from the History Channel that discusses the history of this day.

After you have watched the video I hope that you continue to read on as I explore the origins of Labor Day. I will also discuss what you can do during these holidays and also how you can explore the occupations of your ancestors.

Credit:   History Channel

Special Date:

US Labor Day – 1st Monday of September


History of Labor Day!

I will start off by saying that with most US holidays the meaning of these days usually get lost in time. But I feel that the intentions of this day have not changed since this day was originally created more than a century ago.

History of Labor Day

Working 84 hours a week, oh my!

During the late 1800s working conditions for the average American worker was very brutal and stressful too. Not only were the workforce expected to work for 12 hours a day, but also for 7 days a week.

You would expect quite a good living these days by working so many long hours. But in those days this amount of work would only help you get by. A pretty much basic living.

Even children workers as well

To top it all off people of all ages, including children as young as 5 or 6, would need to work in unsafe conditions. Plus they probably would not have access to fresh air or have adequate facilities or breaks.

To contest these harsh conditions labor unions began to organize strikes and rallies. These events would often turn ugly as during the Haymarket Riot of 1886 several workers and Chicago policemen were killed.


When Was The first Labor Day?

The first Labor Day took place back on September 5th 1882, a Tuesday. The labor movement started to gather momentum and it was the Central Labor Union who were responsible for this day. This union in New York wanted to have a holiday for the workers.

First Labor Day

Celebrating Labor Day around the world!

Other countries around the world had their own holidays for their workers and this union wanted to follow suit. They too wanted to pay tribute to the achievement and the contributions of the American workers.

A second Labor Day holiday occurred on September 5th 1883. And then in 1884 it was proposed that the day to pay tribute to the American worker would be on the first Monday of September.

By 1885 this event became widespread all over America within many of its industrial centers.

A rail strike gave birth to Labor Day!

It would take another 9 years for this day to finally become a federal holiday in 1894. But it was only after there was a failed attempt to stop a railroad strike.

The American Railroad Union basically crippled the nations railroad traffic. Troops were thus sent to Chicago to break up the strike but riots ensued. In the mayhem of this event more than a dozen workers lost their lives.

Congress would need to put an end to these constant riots and rallies, (and also the needless loss of live). During his second run as President of the United States Grover Cleveland would finally make Labor Day a holiday.


Labor Day Origins and Its Evolution!

So that was how Labor Day began, a day where the hard work of America’s people, its’ backbone would be appreciated. But it has now become quite a different day from what its’ initial intentions.

Labor Day Origins

The original festivities

It was originally intended that there would be a street parade in towns and cities across America.

This event would allow the public to show their appreciation for both the work and labor organizations. Then after the parade there would be a festival held for the workers and also for their families as well.

Speeches conducted by men and women from within the community also became popular. However, this is not seen so much these days. Although you do see this sometimes during election years.

By 1909 the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday. This day would be dedicated to the educational and spiritual aspects of the labor movement.

Mass displays and huge parades did become a problem within the large industrial centers. And so the focus of these days days shifted towards the individual and the family. They would thus be responsible for paying tribute to the workers of America in their own way.

Labor Day in the newspapers

I would like you to please check out a post entitled Labor Day & Our Ancestors on the Genealogy Bank website. In this post you can see some original adverts and articles that appeared in newspapers from the day.

It definitely makes some interesting reading.


Labor Day Facts

I have probably answered a few of your questions relating to Labor Day. If I haven’t then you can easily ask them in the comments section below.

Here though are a few of Labor Day facts that I would like to share with you.

Labor Day Facts

Why does America celebrate it on a different day?

Many countries around the world also celebrate Labor Day and pretty much for the same reason. However, rather than celebrate this day on the first Monday of September most countries celebrate it on May 1st, (the start of spring).

The basic reason was to add a holiday in between the long gap between Independence in June and Thanksgiving in November.

Let’s not forget though that Canada also shares the same day for Labor Day on the first Monday of September as well.

Who was the founder of Labor Day?

I have already mentioned that the Central Labor Union were responsible for the creation of Labor Day. They were first to adopt this day and organize a demonstration and picnic.

But there is still some doubt as to which person proposed this day for the workers.

It could have been Matthew Maguire who was a secretary for this union in 1882. But is has also been contested that it was Peter J. McGuire.

The meaning of Labor Day Weekend and why do we celebrate Labor Day Weekend!

As we all know by now it is the first Monday of September that has been set aside as Labor Day. It was only natural for the American people to also include both Saturday and Sunday in this event.

And so we now also know this event ironically as Labor Day Weekend.

But do you know when we first started to call it Labor Day Weekend? Tell me because I would like to know.


What Labor Day Activities Are There For Us To Do?

So what can you do to celebrate Labor Day and most importantly the full Labor Day Weekend? Well there are a number of activities that you can do with both your friends and family.

Labor Day Activities

If you are student then why not organize one last party before you have to go back to school. It’ll be a great way to end off a summer.

Spend time with the family!

Or you may want to spend this time with your family. And that’s great because you could soak up the last rays of the summer sun and go for a picnic.

If you do not want to go too far from home then why not have a barbecue in the backyard?

As this holiday is at the end of summer most people will take that one last vacation before they have to go back to work and the kids have to go back to school.

A popular choice round this time of year is to take one final camping trip.

You must be aware though that there will probably be congestion on both the highways and also at airports too.

Please also be advised that because it is a public holiday public transport will not usually be operating on their regular timetable.

What about the neighborhood?

Within neighborhoods there will most likely be barbecues put on and also maybe firework displays organized as well.

And the football season!

The football season starts on Labor Day or round about this time of year. So why not go to the first game of the season during the Labor Day weekend?

Or if you are not a football fan then there are many athletic events that take place during this holiday.


My Final Thoughts

As I have traced my family history I have grown to appreciate not only what my ancestor did for a living but also the conditions and the decisions that they had to make to put food on the table. It mustn’t have been easy for them in those days.

Can you imagine working those long hours? Would you put yourself through that just to get by?

Probably not!

So it is important to me, and for you I presume, that we pay tribute to the hard of work put in by the American people. And also to the workforce of yesteryear.

Why not research the occupation of your ancestors?

That is why I would like for you to find out about your ancestors. You could look deeper into their story and ask what affected their lives.

Ask questions such as:

  • What did they do for a living?
  • Did they have to move around the country in order to find work?
  • Or did they have to migrate from a poor country to America to seek a better living.

Check out genealogy sites and discover your ancestor’s occupation!

One great genealogy search website that I like to check out is Ancestry. You most probably have heard of this site. Yes?

Well the reason you’ve heard of Ancestry is because they have billions of records within their databases. And I have found out so much about my ancestors through this very helpful resource.

Census records are a great way to not only discover who your ancestors were and their family, but also their occupations as well. You can check subsequent census records to see how they moved around the country and see whether their job changed at all.

If your ancestors came from a foreign land then you can still find out about them. Ancestry also has passenger lists in their collection of records. So you could find out where they came from and also if they came with family as well.

If you are Canadian then you can easily check out the Census Records at Ancestry.ca. Besides census records the Canadian version offers you a diverse range of records for you to search for your ancestors.

FindMyPast is also another great go to site!

I also like to visit another genealogy site by the name of FindMyPast. They too have billions of records at their disposal. And if you cannot find what you are looking for at Ancestry then it is worth checking this website out as well.

There are also census records available which you can access for free at FindMyPast.

Let me finish off by saying Happy Labor Day everyone!

Happy Labor Day


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining to you what is US Labor Day all about. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

6 thoughts on “What Is US Labor Day All About?

  1. Furkan

    Man, I did not know that some workers are children. iI is really horrible and at least, they managed to get a holiday after 9 years.
    I also know that my grandfather was a worker in Romania and I know some of the difficulties which they faced before. I think we are really lucky to live in this era.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      It must have been hard for them in that time. When we research our ancestors we find out their name, where and when they were born, and what they did for a living.

      But we don’t think about how they lived their lives and what they had to go through to put bread on the table.

      I like family history because when researching your family tree you really get to think about your ancestors.

      Reply
  2. Kevin Bulmer

    Hi Owain,
    As usual, this is a really detailed and informative article. Great job.
    Working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week? Sheesh. And the fact that it was so common for kids to be working like that … brutal.
    Spending time with family is always a great suggestion. We’ve learned a lot over the years about what’s really important, but we’ve got a long way to go, in my view.
    Keep up your great work, Owain.
    Best wishes,
    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks Kevin,

      I’ve tried to cover everything that this day is about, without making it boring. It really is a fascinating time in US history.

      I just love learning about American history and also reflecting on what life was like for our ancestors.

      Reply
  3. Craig

    Thanks for the great info. The working conditions around that time sound horrific and young children forced to work too. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are today.

    My wife’s birthday is actually on Labor day so that is one date I will never forget. However, it’s the May 1st Labor day as she is originally from the Philippines 🙂

    It’s interesting that the Unions started it all off. It shows how they played an important role in our working conditions. Do you think our HR dept plays a similar role to the Unions of old? A lot of countries have lost the Unions now but big companies have HR depts.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      This is something that we don’t always think about and probably take for granted. Life was harsh back in the day so you have to think what did they have to go through in order to survive.

      There are still unions around the world, but yes these HR departments have taken on this role. However, they not only look after the employee but also the employer and the business.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *