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Labor Day: History behind the national holiday and why we celebrate it

Labor Day: History behind the national holiday and why we celebrate it
Posted at 1:46 PM, Sep 04, 2020

For many, Labor Day simply signifies the end of summer and it offers a great excuse for an extended weekend.

However, there’s a deeper meaning behind the national holiday, which has roots as far back as the 1880s.

Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement. It’s dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, the bedrock of the U.S. economy and the country's prosperity.

“It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.

As for the founder of Labor Day, there is still some doubt about who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show Peter J. McGuire, a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to suggest the holiday. Meanwhile, others believe that machinist Matthew Maguire proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

Regardless, Labor Day celebrations gained popularity and communities across the U.S. began making it a state holiday. First, Oregon passed it into law, followed by states like Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday and in June of that year, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday of each year a national holiday.

Since then, Labor Day celebrations have evolved. In the early years, Americans celebrated with street parades and festivals.

“Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday,” the Department of Labor says.

Today, the holiday is still celebrated in cities and towns across the U.S. with parades, picnics, barbecues, firework displays and more.