With Labor Day around the corner, I thought it would be fun to acknowledge some fun facts. Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
1. The idea of Labor Day first became public in 1882. In September 1882, the unions of New York City decided to have a parade to celebrate their members being in unions, and to show support for all unions. At least 20,000 people were at the parade, and the workers had to give up a day’s pay to attend. There was also a lot of beer involved in the event.
2. The New York parade inspired other unions to celebrate. Other regions started having their own parades, and by 1887, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Colorado made Labor Day a state holiday. Today, NYC still has a Labor Day parade called Brooklyn West Indian Day Parade, along with college football, refreshing cocktails and a great view of some fireworks over the water!
3. The Haymarket Affair influenced Labor Day. On May 4, 1886, a bomb exploded at a union rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, which led to violence that killed seven police officers and four others. The incident also led to May 1 being celebrated in most nations as Workers Day. The U.S. government chose Labor Day instead to avoid a celebration on May 1 and New York’s unions had already picked the first Monday in September for their holiday.
4. Two people with similar names are credited with that first New York City event. Matthew Maguire, a machinist, and Peter McGuire, a carpenter, have been linked to the 1882 parade. The men were from rival unions. More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers. In 2011, Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department of Labor’s historian, said she didn’t know which man should be credited because people over the years confused them because of their similar-sounding names.
5. 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 and not a holiday celebrated on May 1! Cleveland signed an act in 1894 establishing the federal holiday and most states had already passed laws establishing a Labor Day holiday by that point. Sen. James Henderson Kyle of South Dakota introduced the proposal to make Labor Day a federal legal holiday on the first Monday of September. It was approved on June 28, 1894.
6. The holiday has evolved over the years. In the late 19th century, celebrations focused on huge parades in urban areas. Now the holiday is a wider celebration that honors organized labor with fewer parades, and more activities. It also marks the perceived end of the summer season.
7. Can you wear white after Labor Day? This old tradition goes back to the late Victorian era, where it was a fashion “don’t” to wear any white clothing after the summer officially ended on Labor Day. The tradition isn’t really followed anymore. White supposedly indicated you were still in vacation mode at your summer cottage. These days the fashion world is much more relaxed about what colors to wear and when, but every year you will still hear people say that white after Labor Day is unacceptable, all thanks to some snobby millionaires who decided that was a fashion no-no more than 100 years ago.
8. 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. The Council designates July as National Hot Dog Month.
9. How many people are union members today? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 14.6 million union members in the work force in 2014. There were 17.7 million in 1983.
10. What is the biggest union today? The National Education Association of the United States has 3.2 million members, the NEA (nea.org) is the nation’s largest union and represents public school teachers, administrators, substitute educators, higher education faculty members, education support professionals, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. The union was founded in 1857 and merged with the American Teachers Association in 1966.