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Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

Labor Day (occurring on Monday, September 6 in 2021) is an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters. Specifically, Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894.

The backstory?

In the late 1800s, at the height of the US Industrial Revolution, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to sustain a very modest quality of life. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as five or six toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.

People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, were taken advantaged of and often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks. Children working in coal mines, factories and steel mills were especially susceptible.

Breaker boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, PA

The idea of a Labor Day holiday began in the 1880’s as a tribute to workers who made America strong and prosperous. First, municipalities created the holiday and then states jumped on board, and in 1884 Congress passed the act making the first Monday in September each year a legal holiday called Labor Day.

Early Labor Day Parade / Getty Images

This holiday thanks the more than 150 million Americans who make up our country’s workforce today. Labor Day is traditionally considered a workingman’s holiday or in today’s vernacular a working person’s holiday. After all, women make up 47% of the U.S. workforce. While we Americans celebrate with parades, festivals, backyard Bar-B-Qs and political speeches … we are also celebrating the spirit of the American worker.

Labor Day in the USA is always celebrated on the first Monday of September

9 Fascinating Facts about Labor Day:

1. The idea first became public in 1882. In September 1882, the unions of New York City decided to have a parade to celebrate its human workforce. At least 20,000 people were there, and the workers had to give up a day’s pay to attend.

2. The New York parade inspired other states. Other regions started having parades, and by 1887, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Colorado made Labor Day a state holiday.

3. How did the Haymarket Affair influence Labor Day? On May 4, 1886, a bomb exploded at a union rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, which led to violence killing seven police officers and four others. The incident also led to May 1 being celebrated as Workers Day. The U.S. government chose Labor Day instead to avoid a celebration on May 1.

4. Grover Cleveland helped make Labor Day a national holiday. After violence related to the Pullman railroad strike, President Cleveland and lawmakers in Washington wanted a federal holiday to celebrate labor. Cleveland signed an act in 1894 establishing the federal holiday even though most states had already passed laws establishing a Labor Day holiday.

5. The holiday has evolved over the years. In the late 19th century, celebrations focused on parades in urban areas. Now the holiday has fewer parades but more activities. It also marks the perceived end of the summer season.

6. Labor Day is the unofficial end of Hot Dog season. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs.

7. The Adamson Act was passed on September 3, 1916 to establish an eight-hour work day.

8. Historians say the expression “no white after Labor Day” comes from when the upper

class would return from their summer vacations and stow away their lightweight, white summer clothes as they returned back to school and work.

9. There is still a Labor Day parade in New York City, which takes place throughout the 20

blocks north of the 1882 labor march.

Bob Funk, Sr. celebrating hard work with a FFA youth competing in Oklahoma Youth Expo

As Express employs about 600,000 associates worldwide each year, I’ve learned that hard work and a positive work ethic equal success in America. We put in more hours and take fewer vacation days than our European counterparts and our productivity is always among the top in the world.

I’m enjoy helping people land a job. There is no smile like the smile on the face of someone who just landed a job (and our surveys state that one person landing a job positively and significantly impacts three other individuals/household members).

Every day is Labor Day for me, and for that - I’m am eternally grateful.



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