Labor Day facts are easy find, which is fitting, since it’s day we’re supposed to relax. A holiday “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day is blessing and a curse. Celebrated the first Monday of September, it generally means a day off of work for adults and the final day of summer vacation for schoolchildren. If you’re a snooty follower of fashion, it’s also the last day you can wear white. Who started Labor Day? Why do we get Labor Day off? To get the answers, we’ve got to go back more than 100 years.
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Labor Day’s origins are the source of some debate, but most people credit Matthew Maguire with proposing idea in 1882. Maguire was the secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York, the organization that wound up planning and holding the first Labor Day celebration. This took place on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, and the following year, the CLU marked the occasion on that same date. It wasn’t until 1884 that the CLU settled on the first Monday in September and began urging other labor groups to stage their pro-worker celebrations on that day.
Some scholars, meanwhile, believe Peter J. McGuire, who cofounded the American Federation of Labor and worked as the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, was the first to suggest the holiday. Regardless, on Feb. 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to officially recognize the holiday. That same year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey followed suit. Before the end of the decade, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut had also jumped on board, and on June 28, 1894, after 23 additional states had enacted Labor Day legislation, the U.S. Congress made it a national holiday. Congress’ decision came mere days after President Grover Cleveland had used deployed 12,000 troops to break up a national railroad strike, and the creation of the holiday was seen as a way to appease the labor movement.
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