The History of Labor Day – The Holiday That Commemorates the Huge Contributions the American Workers Have Made, Well-being of our Nation

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on August 31, 2016 with No Comments

It’s holiday time again. And it’s Labor Day weekend! Meaning time for grand parades, big fun picnics and relaxation. And time to spend with family and friends. Celebrate the historic holiday that commemorates the huge contributions the workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our nation. Time to take a break, feel the real spirit and travel to the eventful past of American labor movement and pay a tribute to the great labor force. Labor Day also symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans.

American Labor Movement

As the took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 1800s worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced.

With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. 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 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 City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. Participants took an unpaid day-off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers. As years passed, more states began to hold these parades, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later.

On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. They sought support from their union led by and on June 26 the American Railroad Union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Within days, 50,000 rail workers complied and railroad traffic out of Chicago came to a halt. On July 4, President dispatched troops to Chicago. Much rioting and bloodshed ensued, but the government’s actions broke the strike and the boycott soon collapsed. The strike brought worker’s rights to the public eye and Congress declared, in 1894, that the first Monday in September would be the holiday for workers, known as Labor Day.

The founder of Labor Day remains unclear, but some credit either Peter McGuire, co-founder of the , or Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, for proposing the holiday.

The Eight-Hour Work Day

Demands for an eight-hour working day became increasingly widespread among Americans. The National Labor Union failed to convince Congress to legalize the eight-hour working day. In 1869, the were created and rallied for the eight-hour work day, abolition of child and convict labor, equal pay for equal work, and elimination of private banks. Although at its height membership reached 702,000 members, support for the eventually diminished and the eight-hour work day was never institutionalized.

On May 4, 1886, an outbreak of violence occurred in Chicago. A demonstration, largely staged by a small group, caused a crowd of some 1,500 people to gather at Haymarket Square. When policemen attempted to disperse the meeting, a bomb exploded and rioting ensued. Seven policemen and four other persons were killed, and more than 100 persons were wounded at what came to be known as the . Public indignation rose rapidly, and punishment was demanded. Eight anarchist leaders were tried, but no evidence was produced that they had made or thrown the bomb. They were, however, convicted of inciting violence. Four were hanged, one committed suicide, and the remaining three-after having served in prison for seven years-were pardoned (1893) by , governor of , on the ground that the trial had been unjust.

It wasn’t until 1938 when Congress proposed the , establishing a minimum wage, initially $0.25 an hour, along with a maximum workweek of 44 hours; these were to become $0.40 an hour and 40 hours after seven years.

The has been amended repeatedly in subsequent decades, with changes expanding the classes of workers covered; raising the minimum wage; redefining regular-time work and raising overtime payments so as to encourage the hiring of new workers, as opposed to the loading of extra work on the lowest-paid; and equalizing pay scales for men and women.

The Work Hours Act of 1962 provided time-and-a-half pay for work over an 8-hour day or a 40-hour week.

Although Labor Day is meant as a celebration of the labor movement and its achievements, it has come to be celebrated as the last, long summer weekend before autumn.

Enjoy and have a safe Labor Day weekend. For more history on Labor Day, visit

Labor Day Facts and Trivia for Kids


Even if your kids are a few years away from their first jobs, these Labor Day facts and trivia for kids will teach your youngsters that this national holiday is more than just another day off from school.


From when Labor Day is celebrated to why you can’t wear white after Labor Day, uncover the fun and informative history of Labor Day.


Q: Which state was the first to officially make Labor Day a state-recognized holiday?


A: In 1887, Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a holiday, seven years before the President declared the celebration a national holiday.


Q: Do other countries celebrate Labor Day?


A: While the United States is the birth place of this annual holiday, similar worker’s days are also celebrated in other countries such as Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago in association with each country’s labor movement.


Q: How old do you have to be to get a job?


A: While the states that rules vary depending upon state, job type and age of the minor, on average a person must be 14 years or older to enter the workforce. The number of hours minors under the age of 16 is also limited but varies by state. However, reports that children as young as 5 and 6 years old worked in factories and mines in the late 1800s.


Q: Why do people say not to wear white after Labor Day?


A: While much of the population has left this fashion faux pas in the past, the actual origin of the fashion decree of not wearing white after Labor Day is up for debate. Many people mark the end of summer with the Labor Day holiday, so some say that leaving the breezy, carefree linens and white clothing for hotter months was a symbolic way of waving bye-bye to summertime. Others say that the change in weather around this date doesn’t permit white attire. Either way, it’s now safe to wear your bright whites in public past the September marker in today’s society.


Q: When is Labor Day celebrated?


A: Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September every year. However, this celebration of the American worker wasn’t always a designated day throughout the country.


For more information, visit .






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