Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.
In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living.
Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.
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People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal.
They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Many of these events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed.
Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: On September 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 in U.S. history.
The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.
Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view.
On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. On June 26, the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide.
To break the strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. In the wake of this massive 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.
More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified. Many credit Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, while others have suggested that Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first proposed the holiday.
Labor Day is still celebrated in cities and towns across the United States with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings. For many Americans, particularly children and young adults, it represents the end of the summer and the start of the back-to-school season.
Until Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, laborers who chose to participate in parades had to forfeit a day's wages. LINK
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The History of Labor Day Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
History Of Labor Day - Great Video LINK
Labor Day Legislation
Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation.
The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment.
By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
Founder of Labor Day
The father of labor day
More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.
Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."
But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday.
Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.
Learn more about the founder of Labor Day LINK
The First Labor Day
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date.
The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
A Nationwide Holiday
Women's Auxiliary Typographical Union
The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.
This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday.
Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.
The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem.
This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.
The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy.
It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.
DOL's Historian on the History of Labor Day
Labor Daze — Pride, Chaos and Kegs on Labor's First 'Day
Rosie: By Any Other Name — The Riveting True Story of the Labor Icon http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history-rosie.htm
DOL Celebrates 100 Years
We turned 100! March 2013 marked the Department of Labor's first 100 years of service. We launched a year's worth of educational events outlining the Department's history. When you see our centennial icon, expect to find out some tidbit of history, or about an event or activity celebrating our first century of service to America's workers.
Learn more about DOL Celebrating 100 Years
Take a Virtual Tour of the Department's Historical Timeline
View our Centennial Video — "100 Years of DOL History"
The Real Maguire - Who Actually Invented Labor Day?
Photos of Matthew Maguire and Peter McGuireWhile most sources, even the Department of Labor, credit Peter McGuire with the origination of Labor Day, recent evidence suggests that the true father of Labor Day may in fact be another famous union leader of the 19th Century, Matthew Maguire.
According to legend, Peter McGuire stood before the New York Central Labor Union on May 12, 1882, to suggest the idea of setting aside one day a year to honor labor. McGuire believed that Labor Day should "be celebrated by a street parade which would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations."
Peter McGuire was a young, though well-respected, union leader. A child of immigrants, he quit school at an early age to go to work. In 1881, he founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, which would become the largest trade union of the time.
Later, McGuire would join with his friend, Samuel Gompers, to found the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Through the AFL and the Carpenters, McGuire led the great strikes of 1886 and 1890, which would eventually result in the adoption of the eight-hour workday on the nation's agenda.
Recently, however, evidence uncovered at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark reveals that another respected union figure of the day, Matthew Maguire, may quite possibly be the man behind the creation of Labor Day.
In the 1870s, Matthew Maguire led several strikes, most of which were intended to force the plight of manufacturing workers and their long hours into the public consciousness. By 1882, Maguire had become the secretary of and a leading figure in the Central Labor Union of New York.
According to the New Jersey Historical Society, after President Cleveland signed into law the creation of a national Labor Day, The Paterson (N.J.) Morning Call published an opinion piece entitled, "Honor to Whom Honor is Due," which stated that "the souvenir pen should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday." This editorial also referred to Maguire as the "Father of the Labor Day holiday."
So why has Matthew Maguire been overlooked as the "Father of Labor Day"?
According to The First Labor Day Parade, by Ted Watts, Maguire held some political beliefs that were considered fairly radical for the day and also for Samuel Gompers and his American Federation of Labor.
Allegedly, Gompers did not want Labor Day to become associated with the sort of "radical" politics of Matthew Maguire, so in a 1897 interview, Gompers' close friend Peter J. McGuire was assigned the credit for the origination of Labor Day.
Rosie: By Any Other Name
The Riveting True Story of the Labor Icon
Iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, but with the words 'Don't Call me Rosie. Or Else!' above her head.
Certainly, one of the more readily recognizable icons of labor is "Rosie the Riveter," the indefatigable World War II-era woman who rolled up her sleeves, flexed her arm muscles and said, "We Can Do It!" But, this isn't the original Rosie.
In 1942, as World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific and the song "Rosie the Riveter" filled radio waves across the home front, manufacturing giant Westinghouse commissioned artist J. Howard Miller to make a series of posters to promote the war effort.
One such poster featured the image of a woman with her hair wrapped up in a red polka-dot scarf, rolling up her sleeve and flexing her bicep. At the top of the poster, the words ‘We Can Do It!' are printed in a blue caption bubble.
To many people, this image is "the" Rosie the Riveter. But it was never the intention to make this image "Rosie," nor did many Americans think of her as "Rosie." The connection of Miller's image and "Rosie" is a recent phenomenon.
The "Rosie" image popular during the war was created by illustrator Norman Rockwell (who had most certainly heard the "Rosie the Riveter" song) for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943 — the Memorial Day issue.
The image depicts a muscular woman wearing overalls, goggles and pins of honor on her lapel. She sports a leather wrist band and rolled-up sleeves.
She sits with a riveting tool in her lap, eating a sandwich, and "Rosie" is inscribed on her lunch pail. And, she's stepping on a copy of Adolph Hitler's book "Mein Kampf."
The magazine cover exemplified the American can-do spirit and illustrated the notion of women working in previously male-dominated manufacturing jobs, an ever-growing reality, to help the United States fight the war while the men fought over seas.
The cover was an enormous success and soon stories about real life "Rosies" began appearing in newspapers across the country. The government took advantage of the popularity of Rosie the Riveter and embarked on a recruiting campaign of the same name.
The campaign brought millions of women out of the home and into the workforce. To this day, Rosie the Riveter is still considered the most successful government advertising campaign in history.
After the war, numerous requests were made for the Saturday Evening Post image of Rosie the Riveter, but Curtis Publishing, the owner of the Post, refused all requests. The publishing company was possibly concerned that the composers of the song "Rosie the Riveter" would hold them liable for copyright infringement.
Since then, the J. Howard Miller "We Can Do It!" image has replaced Norman Rockwell's illustration as "Rosie the Riveter" in the minds of many people. Miller's Rosie has been imprinted on coffee mugs, mouse pads, and countless other items, making her and not the original "Rosie" the most famous of all labor icons.