HISTORY OF LABOR DAY
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5,
1882, in New York City. 20,000 workers marched to demand an
eight-hour workday and other labor law reforms.
With the Industrial Revolution well underway, workers toiled 12 hours
a day, seven days a week. Children were also employed because the
child labor laws were not enforced, and children were a cheap source
There is still some disagreement as to who
first proposed the Labor Day holiday. The
person most often credited with suggesting
the holiday is Peter J. McGuire, general
secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a
cofounder of the American Federation of Labor.
Others believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, founded the
holiday. Maguire led his first strike for a shorter work day in the
1870s. In 1882 Maguire, who by then was secretary of Paterson Local
344 of the Machinists and Blacksmiths Union, became one of the
organizers of the Central Labor Union of New York and the
In 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day a legal
holiday, and four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New
Jersey, and New York — followed suit that same year. By the end of
the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had also
enacted laws recognizing the holiday. Finally, in 1894, President
Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday.
Labor Day is observed as a legal holiday on the first Monday in
September throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. In
Australia, Labor Day is called Eight Hour Day, and it commemorates
the successful struggle for a shorter working day. In Europe, Labor
Day is observed on May 1, also known as May Day.
See the Department of Labor’s webpage
http://www.dol.gov/opa/aboutdol/laborday.htm; the AFL-CIO’s webpage
www.aflcio.org.; and The History Channel’s webpage
To view Labor Day Videos, go to