Labor Day, How it All Started and What it Means Today

We all look forward to that long weekend in September. A sort of last hurrah before the school year starts as we say good-bye to summer.  But do we really know WHY we get that first Monday in September off every year? We wanted to share some fun facts with our readers so that we can enjoy the holiday even more, by gaining a better understanding of its meaning and how it came to be.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed the law that Congress passed designating the first Monday in September a holiday for workers. Labor unions pressed and activists sacrificed to gain recognition of both the contributions and the mistreatment of workers at the time.
During the Industrial Revolution in the late 1880’s, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks jut to be able to survive. The working conditions were definitely not ‘OSHA approved,’ but rather unhealthy, dangerous and unclean. Many of the workers were children as young as 5 or 6 years old, who earned only a fraction of what adults did. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. What really compelled the country to adopt the “Labor Day” observance was the result of violent clashes between labor and police during the Haymarket Riot in 1886, when thousands of workers in Chicago took to the streets to demand an eight-hour workday.

We’ve definitely come a long way!

What does Labor Day Stand for?

In understanding the roots of this holiday, how is it still relevant today? Obviously, we are not dealing with these crude working conditions anymore, but we should never forget this important part of our history. Labor Day has adapted over time to become an actual annual celebration of workers and their achievements.  And by workers, we include ALL who are employed—that’s 167 million Americans currently in the workforce! Whether you’re a dental hygienist, machinist, clerk, librarian, firefighter or teacher, you are being honored on this special holiday.

Some Labor Day Fun Facts

  1. Football - Labor Day is considered the ‘unofficial NFL season kickoff.’ Nearly 100% of the time, the NFL plays its first official season game the Thursday after Labor Day.
  2. Fashion - It used to be a fashion faux pas to wear any white clothing after the summer officially ended on Labor Day. The tradition isn’t really followed anymore. The logic behind the fashion trend was that white indicated you were still in vacation mode at your summer cottage.
  3. Unions – How many American workers are currently in a Union? As of 2022, there have been 14.3 million members (about 10.1% of the workforce). To compare, in 1983, there were 17 million (20.1%).  The largest union of all is the National Education Association with over 3 million members!
  4. Eight-Hour Days - The Adamson Act was passed on September 3, 1916, to establish an eight-hour work day.
  5. Travel - Labor Day is one of the busiest travel days of the year, only preceded by Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day before Thanksgiving.
  6. Official Mascot - Labor has an official "mascot" or icon: Rosie the Riveter. But do you know why? Rosie the Riveter was used as a symbol of feminism and a morale booster for women working in factories during World War II. Artist J. Howard Miller designed the infamous Rosie the Riveter poster. She has stood the test of time as inspiration.
  7. Hot Dogs – Sad but true, Labor Day is the official end of hot dog season. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (yes, that’s an official association) states on their website: The summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day continue to make up the “hot dog season." Hot dog producers estimate that an average of 38 percent or $614 million of the total number of hot dogs are sold during this time.

The work we contribute collectively to keeping our country running deserves to be celebrated, so thank you to everyone who has a job. Enjoy your Labor Day—you deserve it!