7 Facts About the First Labor Day You May Not Know

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Have you ever wondered how Labor Day came to be, what is its background and whose big idea it was? Well, you can stop wondering. Joe for America has dug up some information about this uniquely American holiday, and we’re proud to share it:

#1 The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. But by 1884 it was changed to the first Monday in September. And in 1894 Congress decreed Labor Day as a national holiday honoring working men and women whose accomplishments had made America the most productive country on earth.


#2 For years the identity of the founder of Labor Day was in dispute. It was either Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire.

Both were labor union leaders.

McGuire would join with his friend, Samuel Gompers, to found the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Through the AFL and the Carpenters, McGuire led the great strikes of 1886 and 1890, which would eventually result in the adoption of the eight-hour workday on the nation’s agenda.


Maguire held some political beliefs that were considered fairly radical for the day and also for Samuel Gompers and his American Federation of Labor. Allegedly, Gompers did not want Labor Day to become associated with the sort of “radical” politics of Matthew Maguire, so in a 1897 interview, Gompers’ close friend Peter J. McGuire was assigned the credit for the origination of Labor Day.


#3 That first Labor Day was celebrated by a parade in lower Manhattan. laborday firstMusicians for the parade were from the Jewelers Union of Newark Two. When the marching jewelers turned onto lower Broadway they were playing “When I First Put This Uniform On,” from Patience, an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. Like much of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, this comic opera satirized the popular culture of the day. In this opera, Gilbert chose to satirize the aesthetic poetry movement led by Oscar Wilde.


#4 A post-parade party at Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and Ninth Avenue featured “Lager beer kegs… mounted in every conceivable place.” From 1p.m. until 9 p.m. that night, nearly 25,000 union members and their families filled the park and celebrated the very first Labor Day, initiating the tradition of having a picnic or cookout for the occasion.


laborday police

#5 The park was decorated with flags of many nations. Everyone picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership. In the evening, even more people came to the park to watch fireworks and dance. The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and “a day of the people.”


#6 The police, wary that a riot would break out, were out in force that morning. By 9 a.m., columns of police and club-wielding officers on horseback surrounded city hall.


#7 By a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

I’m pretty sure it was our Labor Day that inspired the Vulcan motto, “Live long and prosper.” Even in a galaxy far, far away they recognize the value of prosperity. Cool.

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