The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Labor Day: Celebrating the American Labor Movement

Labor Day

Kayakers, canoers, and swimmers enjoy a perfect late summer day on the Connecticut. (Photo by Joshua Renaud '17)

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The first Monday in September has annually been celebrated as Labor Day since 1894. Labor Day exists to celebrate workers, their families, and the American Labor Movement, however, its origins are unclear.

Some believe that machinist Matthew Maguire first proposed the idea as the secretary of New York's Central Labor Union in 1882, while others believe that Peter J. Maguire of the American Federation of Labor came up with the idea first. In any case, states began adopting the holiday beginning with Oregon in 1887.

Congress and President Grover Cleveland didn't declare it a federal holiday until 1894, six days after the nationwide railroad worker strike, otherwise known as the Pullman Strike. The strike resulted in thirty deaths at the hands of federal military forces, as the government was upset that the railroads were shut down and wanted to get them working again. 

Labor Day has become somewhat of an unofficial end-of-summer holiday and celebrations often manifest themselves in picnics, barbecues, road trips, and sports events. For students, it is the last of the summer vacation season before the start of the new school year.

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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences