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Labor Day

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Labor Day
Labor Day Parade in New York's Union Square, 1882
Observed byUnited States
CelebrationsParades, barbecues
DateFirst Monday in September
2023 dateSeptember 4  (2023-09-04)
2024 dateSeptember 2  (2024-09-02)
2025 dateSeptember 1  (2025-09-01)
2026 dateSeptember 7  (2026-09-07)
Related toLabour Day

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday of September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.[1][2][3]

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. "Labor Day" was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the U.S. officially celebrated Labor Day.[4]

Canada's Labour Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September. More than 150 other countries celebrate International Workers' Day on May 1, the European holiday of May Day. May Day was chosen by the Second International of socialist and communist parties to commemorate the general labor strike in the United States and events leading to the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago, Illinois, from May 1 – May 4, 1886.[5][6]



P. J. McGuire, Vice President of the American Federation of Labor, is frequently credited as the father of Labor Day in the United States.

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, diverse groups of trade unionists chose a variety of days on which to celebrate labor. In the United States, a September holiday called Labor Day was first proposed in the early 1880s.

Alternative accounts of the event's origin exist. Descendants of two men with similar last names claim their great-grandfather was the true father of the holiday.[7]

According to one early history of Labor Day, the event originated in connection with a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor convened in New York City in September 1882.[8] In connection with this clandestine Knights assembly, a public parade of various labor organizations was held on September 5 under the auspices of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York.[8] Secretary of the CLU Matthew Maguire is credited for first proposing that a national Labor Day holiday subsequently be held on the first Monday of each September in the aftermath of this successful public demonstration.[2][7]

An alternative theory maintains that the idea of Labor Day was the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire, a vice president of the American Federation of Labor, who, after a visit to Toronto where he saw parades celebrating labor that May,[9][10] had put forward the initial proposal in the spring of 1882.[4] According to McGuire, on May 8, 1882, he made a proposition to the fledgling Central Labor Union in New York City that a day be set aside for a "general holiday for the laboring classes".[11] According to McGuire he further recommended that the event should begin with a street parade as a public demonstration of organized labor's solidarity and strength, with the march followed by a picnic, to which participating local unions could sell tickets as a fundraiser.[11] According to McGuire he suggested the first Monday in September as an ideal date for such a public celebration, owing to optimum weather and the date's place on the calendar, sitting midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving public holidays.[11]

Labor Day picnics and other public gatherings frequently featured speeches by prominent labor leaders.[12]

In 1909, the American Federation of Labor convention designated the Sunday preceding Labor Day as "Labor Sunday", to be dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.[2] This secondary date failed to gain significant traction in popular culture, although some churches continue to acknowledge it.[13]

Legal recognition[edit]

The popularity of the event spread across the country. In 1887, Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By 1894, thirty U.S. states were already officially celebrating Labor Day. In that year, Congress passed a bill recognizing the first Monday of September as Labor Day and making it an official federal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law on June 28.[14][4] The federal law, however, only made it a holiday for federal workers. As late as the 1930s, unions were encouraging workers to strike to make sure they got the day off.[15] All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories have subsequently made Labor Day a statutory holiday.[16] Labor Day became a federal holiday shortly after the Pullman Strike.

Labor Day versus May Day[edit]

Labor Day parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., c. 1894

The date of May 1 (an ancient European folk holiday known as May Day) emerged in 1886 as an alternative holiday for the celebration of labor, later becoming known as International Workers' Day. The date had its origins at the 1885 convention of the American Federation of Labor, which passed a resolution calling for adoption of the eight-hour day effective May 1, 1886.[17] While negotiation was envisioned for achievement of the shortened work day, use of the strike to enforce this demand was recognized, with May 1 advocated as a date for coordinated strike action.[17] The proximity of the date to the bloody Haymarket affair of May 4, 1886, further accentuated May First's radical reputation.[13]

There was disagreement among labor unions at this time about when a holiday celebrating workers should be, with some advocating for continued emphasis of the September march-and-picnic date while others sought the designation of the more politically charged date of May 1. Conservative Democratic President Grover Cleveland was one of those concerned that a labor holiday on May 1 would tend to become a commemoration of the Haymarket affair and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that backed the May 1 commemoration around the globe.[18] In 1887, he publicly supported the September Labor Day holiday as a less inflammatory alternative,[19] formally adopting the date as a United States federal holiday through a law that he signed in 1894.[2]

Since the mid-1950s, the United States has celebrated Loyalty Day and Law Day on May 1. Unlike Labor Day, neither are legal public holidays (in that government agencies and most businesses do not shut down to celebrate them) and therefore have remained relatively obscure. Loyalty Day is formally celebrated in a few cities, while some bar associations hold Law Day events to celebrate the rule of law.[20][21]

Unofficial end of summer[edit]

Labor Day is called the "unofficial end of summer"[22] because it marks the end of the U.S. culture's nominal summer season. Many take their two-week vacations during the two weeks ending Labor Day weekend.[23] Many fall activities, such as school and sports (particularly football), begin about this time.

In the United States, many school districts resume classes around the Labor Day holiday weekend (see First day of school). Some begin the week before, making Labor Day weekend the first three-day weekend of the school calendar, while others return the Tuesday following Labor Day. Many districts across the Midwest are opting to begin school after Labor Day.[24]

In the U.S. state of Virginia, the amusement park industry has successfully lobbied for legislation requiring most school districts in the state to have their first day of school after Labor Day, in order to give families another weekend to visit amusement parks in the state. The relevant statute has been nicknamed the "Kings Dominion law" after one such park.[25] This law was repealed in 2019.[26]

In the U.S. state of Minnesota, the State Fair ends on Labor Day. Under state law, public schools normally do not begin until after the holiday. One reason given for this timing was to allow time for schoolchildren to show 4-H projects at the Fair.[27]

In U.S. sports, Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of many fall sports. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams usually play their first games that weekend,[28] and the National Football League (NFL) traditionally play their kickoff game the Thursday following Labor Day.[29] The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race has been held on Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina from 1950 to 2003 and since 2015.[30] At Indianapolis Raceway Park, the National Hot Rod Association hold their finals of the NHRA U.S. Nationals drag race that weekend.[31] Labor Day is the middle point between weeks one and two of the U.S. Open tennis championships, held in Flushing Meadows, New York.[32]

In fashion, Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day when it is acceptable to wear white[33] or seersucker.[34][35] The source of the tradition lies in part with the migration of wealthy 19th century New Yorkers back from their summer-home Newport Mansions and accompanying change back from summer clothes.[36] The traditional last day to wear straw hats moved from around Labor Day (September 1) to September 15. In 1922, the Straw Hat Riot broke out due to gangs snatching the hats of men violating this rule in New York City. The unofficial beginning of summer, and the summer fashion season in the United States, is Memorial Day. In the 2020s, it has become fashionable to wear white year-round.[36]

There are numerous events and activities organized in major cities. For example, New York offers the Labor Day Carnival, and fireworks over Coney Island.[37] In Washington, one popular event is the Labor Day Concert at the U.S. Capitol featuring the National Symphony Orchestra with free attendance.[38]

Labor Day sales[edit]

To take advantage of large numbers of potential customers with time to shop, Labor Day has become an important weekend for discounts and allowances by many retailers in the United States, especially for back-to-school sales. Some retailers claim it is one of the largest sale dates of the year, second only to the Christmas season's Black Friday.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Department of Labor, "Labor Daze – Pride, Chaos and Kegs on Labor's First 'Day'"
  2. ^ a b c d "The History of Labor Day". United States Department of Labor. Archived from the original on September 25, 2017. Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  3. ^ "Labor Day 2020". History.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c The Bridgemen's magazine. International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers. 1921. pp. 443–444. Archived from the original on October 9, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  5. ^ Philip S. Foner (1986). May Day: A Short History of the International Workers' Holiday, 1886–1986. New York: International Publishers. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0-7178-0624-3.
  6. ^ Rothman, Lily (May 1, 2017). "The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers". Time. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  7. ^ a b "McGuire or Maguire? A Tussle Over Who Founded Labor Day," by Jenny Gross, The New York Times, September 6, 2020
  8. ^ a b "Origin of Labor Day", Cincinnati Tribune, September 1, 1895, Special Labor Day supplement, p. 26.
  9. ^ "History – Carpenters' District Council of Ontario". Retrieved September 8, 2020.
  10. ^ "Labour day – a holiday born in Canada". Canadian Labour Congress. September 3, 2018. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c P.J. McGuire, "Labor Day – Its Birth and Significance", The Union Agent [Kentucky], vol. 3, no. 9 (Sept. 1898), p. 1.
  12. ^ McKeeves, Amy (September 4, 2020). "Labor Day's surprisingly radical origins". National Geographic. Archived from the original on September 7, 2020. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  13. ^ a b McDonald, Hannah (August 5, 2019). "8 Facts About Labor Day". Mental Floss. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  14. ^ "Public Acts of the Fifty-Third Congress of the United States" (PDF). United States Statutes at Large. 28: 96. 1894. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  15. ^ Zagorsky, Jay (August 29, 2017). "Have we forgotten the true meaning of Labor Day?". The Conversation US. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  16. ^ "The History of Labor Day". United Auto Workers. August 30, 2017. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  17. ^ a b Philip S. Foner, May Day: A Short History of the International Workers' Holiday. New York: International Publishers, 1986; p. 19.
  18. ^ Sally Kohn (September 1, 2014). Why Labor Day was a political move. CNN. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
  19. ^ "Knights of Labor". Progressive Historians. September 3, 2007. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.
  20. ^ Office of the Federal Register (1967). The Code of Federal regulations of the United States of America. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 42–43.
  21. ^ "History of Law Day". American Bar Association. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  22. ^ Weil, Martin (August 31, 2019). "Labor Day weekend brings summer to an unofficial close". The Washington Post.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "Labor Day: The last (and best) chance for a summer vacation". The Washington Post. 31 August 2019.
  24. ^ Charles, C.M.; Senter, Gail W. (2008). Elementary Classroom Management. Pearson / Allyn and Bacon. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-205-51071-9. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  25. ^ Freed, Benjamin (25 August 2014). ""Kings Dominion law" still reigns in Virginia". Washingtonian Magazine. Archived from the original on 13 September 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  26. ^ Smith, Max (March 21, 2019). "With repeal of 'Kings Dominion' law, VA schools can now start before Labor Day". WTOP News. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  27. ^ "Commonly asked questions". mpls.k12.mn.us. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  28. ^ Kirshner, Alex (3 September 2017). "Why CFB's week 1 became a Thursday-to-Monday event". SBNation.com. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  29. ^ "Kickoff game now a national event". FOX Sports. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  30. ^ Pockrass, Bob (August 22, 2014). "Sprint Cup schedule: Darlington gets Labor Day weekend back, Bristol moves spring race to April". Sporting News. Archived from the original on August 26, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  31. ^ "NHRA U.S. Nationals". Lucas Oil Raceway. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  32. ^ "U.S. Open tennis championship". City of New York. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  33. ^ FitzPatrick, Laura (September 8, 2009). "Why we can't wear white after Labor Day". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  34. ^ Bell, Johnathan (May 9, 2011). "An introduction to seersucker for men". Guy Style Guide. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2012.
  35. ^ O'Brien, Glenn (December 15, 2000). "Daytime wedding after Labor Day: Is it okay to wear a light beige suit to a daytime wedding after Labor Day?". The Style Guy. GQ Magazine. Archived from the original on January 31, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2012.
  36. ^ a b "Fashionistas get ready: It's safe to break out the white clothing". NPR. May 28, 2024.
  37. ^ "Labor Day weekend". rove.me. August 11, 2023.
  38. ^ "20+ ways to celebrate Labor Day weekend in Washington, DC". Destination DC.
  39. ^ "Labor Day Intention Still Holds Meaning". Tri Parish Times. August 30, 2012. Archived from the original on December 16, 2019. Retrieved August 31, 2012.

General and cited references[edit]

  • Green, James (2007). Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 978-1-4000-3322-5. OCLC 494649024.

External links[edit]