Labor Day

A Celebration of the American Worker

By Cindy Eslinger

We celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September.  But most people probably have no idea what we're celebrating.  In fact, anyone who has ever worked in our country is the reason for the celebration.

The holiday was founded on the backs of all American laborers, a national tribute to the innovation, strength, and prosperity of our country. In 1882 two men, Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire were members of 2 different labor unions.  Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to suggest a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold”. Other records indicate Matthew Maguire, a machinist, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the idea that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882. At the time he was serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) in New York. What is clear is that the CLU adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan the day's events which included a demonstration and a picnic.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance to the plans of the Central Labor Union. In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday by the CLU and they urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York in celebrating a “workingmen's holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations and in 1885, the holiday was celebrated by many other industrial centers in the United States.
Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday on February 21, 1887.  By the time it became a federal holiday in 1894 thirty states officially celebrated their first Labor Day holidays.
The original format that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to show to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. Speeches by prominent men and women were started later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday proceeding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.