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Many people think of Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer activities—but aside from the fact that it typically includes a day off of work and a three-day weekend, do you know the purpose of this holiday?
Most people know that Labor Day is a day set aside to show appreciation for the American labor force, but its roots are a lot deeper than that. It’s a holiday that recognizes the American workforce and honors the contributions of all laborers who have been instrumental to the success of our country. Labor Day commemorates the people who made our country what it is today.
When Is Labor Day?
Labor Day is a United States federal holiday that is celebrated on the first Monday in September.
What Is Labor Day?
Here’s a quick refresher on American history to understand the holiday’s history. Toward the end of the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution had just come to the United States. Changes in technology meant that a whole new set of products could be made with machines. Things like steam engines, cameras, typewriters, and electric generators were all produced in factories for the first time. And with the invention of the modern factory, the number of jobs skyrocketed, but wages decreased significantly.
During that time, the average American worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to earn a basic living. During the Industrial Revolution, every family member—including women and children as young as five—had to work to provide a home and food. In addition to working long hours, the factories were new and unsafe (this was before building codes and safety regulations were implemented), so many workers sustained illnesses and injuries due to the working conditions.
To keep workers safe, labor unions came together for the first time, and people began to protest the working conditions. On September 5, 1882, more than 10,000 factory workers went on strike and marched through the streets of New York City in what would become known as the first Labor Day parade in our country’s history.
So, how did these strikes turn into the modern three-day weekend we associate with Labor Day? After the strikes began, states celebrated the “workingmen’s holiday” by giving laborers the day off on the first Monday in September. Over the next decade, the holiday grew in popularity as working conditions slowly improved. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day an official holiday honoring the workforce that helped facilitate new technological advances in our country.
Without that labor force, we wouldn’t have modern-day cameras, cars, trains, or electronics. So while Labor Day is certainly a way to celebrate the modern worker, it’s also a day to look back and appreciate those who have come before us. As you’re planning this year’s three-day weekend, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have contributed to our country’s modern-day conveniences.
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