Labor Day: Coming to a Town Near You Since 1894

The history of the holiday that celebrates the American worker.

Most Americans know Labor Day as a time of barbecues, parades and the symbolic end of summer. But the holiday, always on the first Monday of September, has a history that stretches back more than 100 years.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It was proposed by the Central Labor Union, an early trade union, to honor the social and economic contributions of workers. 

In 1884, the labor union selected the first Monday in September for the day, urging other cities and their unions to celebrate this “workingmen’s holiday.” 

The first municipal ordinances recognizing the holiday were passed in 1885 and 1886. Oregon became the first state to make the holiday a law on Feb. 21, 1887. By 1894, 24 additional states followed suit. 

That same year, the holiday gained national recognition. Many workers had died at the hands of U.S. marshals when the Pullman Strike turned violent, and then-President Grover Cleveland made appeasement with the labor movement a top political priority. On June 28, 1894, Congress deemed the day an official holiday. 

Today, all government buildings and offices are closed on Monday in observance of Labor Day.

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