History of Labor Day

Posted September 4, 2015 by Amanda | No Comment

This Monday, the United States celebrates Labor Day in honor of the contributions and achievements that workers have made. Celebrated on the first Monday of each September, Labor Day was created as a result of the Labor Movement of the late 19th century. Today, the holiday also symbolizes the end of summer and is celebrated with parties, parades and community events.

History of Labor Day

Working in bottling factory / Library of Congress

The origins of Labor Day can be traced back to the late 1800s at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Workers were subjected to horrendous working conditions, often unsafe and unsanitary, for small wages. The average worker endured twelve hour work days, seven days a week. And despite restrictions in some states, children were often employed in mills, factories and mines across the country. As the conditions worsened, labor unions grew and became more prominent. The unions organized strikes in protest of the poor and unsafe conditions and fight for higher wages and shorter hours.

History of Labor Day

Peter J. McGuire / Wikimedia Commons

Some credit the idea of a workers’ holiday to Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who proposed it to the Central Labor Union. However, many others credit Peter J. McGuire, a leader of the American Federation of Labor, as the “Father of Labor Day.” It is said that McGuire got the idea after watching the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada. A prominent leader of the labor movement, McGuire led strikes that eventually resulted in the establishment of the eight-hour work day.

History of Labor Day

Labor Day parade in New York, 1909 / Library of Congress

The first Labor Day in the U.S. was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. A street parade was held to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Union leaders invited workers from all over to participate in the festivities. It is estimated that by the end of the day, about 10,000 people had marched in the parade.

Soon other states followed. By 1894, Labor Day was officially named a federal holiday.

History of Labor Day

Report on a Knights of Labor meeting in the Boston Daily Globe, October 26, 1886 / MyHeritage SuperSearch

Labor Day is a great time to spend with your family. Take advantage of the holiday to work on your genealogy! If your ancestors were in labor unions, try seeking out union records for more information. Ask relatives, look at old photos and nicknacks to track down what union they may have belonged. A search through old newspapers may also provide you with some clues. Some articles will report on union meetings and list members in attendance.

Do you have ancestors who were in labor unions?

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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