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What Does Labor Day Really Mean?

Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images
By David Mills 


When the Labor Day holiday began is well documented.

Who first suggested the holiday isn't as clear-cut.

The Labor Day holiday was first proposed in 1882, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's web site.

Some historians say Peter McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first to suggest a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

However, many historians credit Matthew Maguire, a machinist, with first suggesting the holiday.

They say Maguire, who later became 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.

Either way, the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal that year and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City under the guidance of the Central Labor Union.

A second Labor Day was observed a year later on Sept. 5, 1883, in New York.

In 1884, the labor union selected the first Monday of September as the day to celebrate Labor Day. It urged other municipalities to observe a "workingmen's holiday" on that same date.

Many regions held their first Labor Day celebrations in 1885.

In February 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Later that year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York followed suit. By 1894, 23 states had adopted Labor Day holidays.

In June 1894, Congress approved a Labor Day recognition for Washington, D.C., as well as U.S. terrorities.

The first labor council proposal for a Labor Day holiday recommended 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.

That model is the basis for most Labor Day celebrations today.

Since then, Labor Day has also become the official starting date for political campaigns gearing up for November elections.

Here's a few interesting Labor Day facts taken from an article on The Huffington Post.

Labor Day had its origins in Canada, where in 1872 a parade was held in Toronto to support a strike against a 58-hour work week.

The tradition of not wearing white after Labor Day may have started in the early 20th century. That's when white was the color worn by Americans well-to-do enough to decamp from their city digs to warmer climates for months at a time.

According to national labor statistics from 2009, here is a breakdown of the number of professionals in various fields.

Firefighters: 258,000
Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists: 718,000
Chefs and head cooks: 281,000
Musicians, singers and related workers: 179,000
Bakers: 183,000
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 286,000
Service station attendants: 96,000
Farmers and ranchers: 825,000
Pharmacists: 232,000
Teachers 6.5 million

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