Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is an annual and national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the country. The Labor Day holiday is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.
According to the US Department of Labor (DOL), the concept of a day to honor US laborers was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.
Many others believe that a machinist named Matthew Maguire founded the holiday. Matthew Maguire, who would later become 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.
While exactly who first proposed or created the holiday is still debated, what is clear is that the Central Labor Union was the first to adopt a Labor Day proposal. The Central Labor Union’s first celebration of the Labor Day holiday was Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. And a year later the Central Labor Union held its second holiday observance on September 5, l883.
By the following year (l884) it was decided that the first Monday in September would become the day to celebrate this “workingmen’s holiday.” The Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow New York’s example and celebrate on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and by l885 Labor Day was celebrated in many of the industrial centers of the country.
Initial governmental recognition of the holiday would came through municipal ordinances. The first to become law was passed by Oregon in l887. By the end of the year four more state legislatures – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – had passed similar laws. In 1894, with 23 other states having had adopted the holiday, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday. Today, Labor Day is observed not only in the U.S. but also in Canada, and many other industrialized nations. But while the US celebrates in September, most of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1st.
Labor Day is generally observed with parades, speeches, barbecues, and picnics. The day has also become the unofficial end of the summer season with many colleges, secondary and elementary schools beginning classes immediately after the Labor Day weekend.