Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated to honor the social and economic accomplishments of American workers. Labor Day is traditionally held on the first Monday in September each year.

Labor Day was officially created in a series of municipal ordinances that were passed successively in 1885 and 1886, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). It remains unknown who officially created the first Labor Day holiday, but historians believe that the American labor force was honored annually even before Labor Day officially began. Labor Day is considered one of 10 official holidays in the U.S., which means that federal offices close on the observed day. Many businesses in the private sector also close on Labor Day Monday.

The Origin of Labor Day
After the federal government's official designation of Labor Day, many states followed suit. The New York legislature was the first to pass a bill acknowledging Labor Day, but Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a legal holiday. Oregon declared Labor Day a holiday on February 21, 1887. Throughout the next 12 months, four other states — New Jersey, New York, Colorado and Massachusetts — created ordinances declaring Labor Day a holiday. By 1897, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Oklahoma also had ordinances supporting Labor Day. Nearly two dozen other states chose to celebrate workers on Labor Day, and created ordinances stating so. On June 28, 1894, Congress officially declared the first Monday in each September to mark the celebration of Labor Day.

Labor Day's Creators
Although historians still do not know precisely who started Labor Day, they do have some information about Labor Day's founders. Some official records suggest that Peter J. McGuire, an American who was the general secretary of an organization called the Brotherhood of Carpenters, started Labor Day. Based on other historical records, other historians believe that an American named Matthew Maguire, who was a machinist by profession, was the individual responsible for starting Labor Day. Maguire was the secretary of the Local 344 branch of the International Association of Machinists, which was located in Paterson, New Jersey.

Labor Day Festivities
Although Labor Day did not officially become a national holiday until 1894, celebrations were taking place years before that date. The first Labor Day celebration recorded took place in New York City on September 5, 1882, according to the DOL. The inaugural Labor Day celebration was organized by the Central Labor Union, which was based out of New York City. This organization was comprised of several smaller labor unions that convened to advocate for better working conditions and wages. A second Labor Day celebration took place the following year on the same day. Labor Day officially became a three-day weekend holiday in 1884 through a proposal by the Central Labor Union, and Monday was selected the following year as the dedicated day for the Labor Day holiday. Street parades, which remain important components of Labor Day celebrations in modern times, were among the original activities that commemorated the working holiday. Early Labor Day celebrations also included recreational and entertainment-based activities for workers to enjoy with their families, such as fairs and rides. Labor Day is still honored with speeches and parades, and it is a major travel holiday for many Americans looking to enjoy the last bit of summer.