7 Things You Didn’t Know About Labor Day

September 2, 2021

Here at the South Suburban Currency Exchange (SSCE), we believe in celebrating American workers, both past and present.

Labor Day – which takes place the first Monday every September – dates back to the late nineteenth century. It was around that time that labor activists lobbied the federal government to have a national holiday that recognized the numerous contributions workers had made to the prosperity and well-being in the United States.

Here are some other facts about Labor Day that you might not have known:

1. Labor Day Is One of 12 Federal Holidays

These days, there’s an official day for everything under the sun. But there are only a dozen permanent federal holidays, the first of which dates back to 1870. Legally, they only apply to federal employees and the District of Columbia, since the states get to decide which holidays they will observe.

Labor Day took a detour from previous ones commemorating the traditional celebrations of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day, and the patriotic celebration of Independence Day. It’s intended as a day of rest, recreation, and enjoyment, but also one that honors the role and contributions of all types of workers to the country.

2. It Was Founded During the Industrial Revolution

Labor Day was added to the list on June 28, 1894. It’s no coincidence that it was founded at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a time in which jobs around the country were being transformed by new manufacturing processes.

3. Labor Day Started in New York

The government was a little slow on the uptake, since 23 states already recognized Labor Day as a legal holiday by the time it was written into law. New York was the first, but the day was already recognized by labor activists and individual states dating back much earlier. The first Labor Day Parade took place in New York City in 1882.

4. Peter McGuire vs Matthew McGuire

To this day there is some debate over who we can thank for founding Labor Day. One was Peter McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. As a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, he reportedly suggested creating a holiday “for the laboring classes.” But some people believe Matthew Maguire, a machinist and union secretary in New Jersey, was the holiday’s true founder.

5. It Has Roots in Labor Activism

Labor Day was also the first national holiday for which there was an activist role aimed at recognizing the value of trade and labor organizations. As the economic and civic significance of the holiday grew, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday in 1909 by the American Federation of Labor convention, dedicated to “the spiritual and educational aspects” of the labor movement.

6. It Helped Transform the County’s Labor Standards

It’s no surprise people wanted to recognize the contributions of laborers. A lot has changed since the holiday was created, when many Americans worked 12-hour days including weekends just to make a basic living, oftentimes in extremely unsafe working conditions. Over the years it helped draw attention to the lack of rights of children, who worked dangerous jobs for a fraction of what adults earned. We can thank Labor Day for helping to improve labor laws and eventually raising the nation’s standard of living.

7. Similar Holidays Are Celebrated Around the World

The holiday is sometimes confused with May Day. That’s because there’s a very similar holiday known as International Workers’ Day, a.k.a. May Day. This holiday falls on May 1 and is a public holiday in over 80 countries, according to Investopedia. Just like in this country, these holidays are meant to celebrate the contributions of workers, promote their rights, and commemorate the labor movement.

And what better way to celebrate your own hard work than having some fun this year – especially considering the year we’ve had. There are loads of ways to kick back and enjoy the tail end of summer. Whether on Monday or on “Labor Sunday,” find something fun and safe to do with a loved one, such as having a picnic, barbequing in the back yard, or going on a hike.

At SSEA, we help workers in Chicago’s south suburbs through a wide range of services and advice. We’ll be closed on September 6 in honor of Labor Day. Reach out to us online or stop by your neighborhood location, where our staff can assist you with any of your financial or transportation needs.