What Is Labor Day?

Summer is over. Pack up your white pants – Labor Day is here.

More than a symbolic end to summer and aside from a few backyard barbeques and a day off from work, what exactly IS Labor Day?

Labor Day started in the late 1800’s as a way to honor the American worker.  During a time when Americans were working 7 days a week, 12 hour days to make ends meet, the social and economic state of the country were facing a dismal outlook on the future.  As agricultural emphasis transitioned to a manufacturing one in America, labor unions began to form and protest sub-par working conditions, grueling hours and poor pay.

The first semblance of Labor Day took place on September 5th, 1882 in New York City.  According to History.com, as many as 10,000 workers marched from City Hall to Union Square, marking the day as the first Labor Day parade in US history and creating a nationwide movement celebrating this “workingmen’s holiday”.

At a time when income was of utmost importance in a struggling America during the Industrial Revolution, a workers dedication to the Labor Day movement came at a cost.  Until the holiday was passed by Congress in 1894, any worker choosing to participate in the parade events on this day would forfeit an entire day’s wage.

In spring of 1894, the employee protest and subsequent strike as a result of wage cuts and firing of union representatives at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago met resistance with the federal government and ended in many employee deaths after troops were sent to Chicago to break the strike.  In an attempt at making peace with American workers following this major unrest, Congress passed the act to make Labor Day a legal holiday. (Excerpts from History.com)

So it is on this day we rest and pay tribute to the American worker.  We deserve it.


  • No one knows who actually started Labor Day, though historians suggest either Peter McGuire, a general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners or machinist Matthew Maguire. (US Dept. of Labor)
  • Labor Day’s roots began in Toronto, Canada, in the 1870’s over a strike against 58 hour work weeks. (Huffington Post)
  • Oregon was the first state to declare Labor Day as a state holiday. (Huffington Post)
  • Among all 153.2 million American workers, we can pay tribute to 6.1 million teachers, over 3 million in protective services, 2.6 million registered nurses, nearly 20 million in office administration and over 35 million corporate professionals. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics-2011)
  • Nearly 6 million Americans work from home. (US Census Bureau-2009)
  • Over 12% of American commuters, or 16.5 million, leave for work between midnight and 5:59am with an average commute time to work of 25 minutes.  Over 3 million workers commute 90 minutes or more.


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