For most Americans, Labor Day means the official end of summer—one last chance for a backyard barbecue or trip to the beach before school resumes and fall begins. But the holiday is more than just a day of relaxation. Labor Day was created to honor workers and support unions at the height of the industrial revolution, when working conditions were less than ideal.
In the late 1800s, workingclass Americans put in 12 hour days, 7 days a week, toiling in unsafe conditions for meager pay. And while many states already had child labor laws on the books, children as young as 5 or 6 years old worked in mines, factories, and mills in many other states. The organized labor movement put an end to these harsh and often deadly conditions, and Labor Day celebrates those efforts. Here are 10 other things you might not know about this holiday, which is celebrated on the first Monday of September:
1. Canada created the holiday first
American union leaders didn’t dream up the idea for a Labor Day holiday on their own—they were inspired by Canada, which established its own Labor Day holiday to demand worker rights in 1872.
2. The first US celebration was in 1882
Labor unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade in September 1882 to celebrate their members and support all unions within the city and beyond. Between 10,000 and 20,000 workers participated, which was notable considering they had to give up a day’s pay to attend.
3. Two people share credit for organizing the New York parade
For all the historical significance of that first Labor Day parade, no one is sure exactly whose idea it was. Rival union leaders Matthew Maguire and Peter McGuire have both received credit over the years, mostly because of their similar last names. Without any evidence backing up either man’s claim, the US Department of Labor officially credits them both.
4. Oregon was the first state to establish an official holiday
While New York was responsible for the first Labor Day celebrations in the US, in February 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official state holiday. That same year, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Colorado followed suit.
5. A railroad strike led to the creation of a federal holiday
Union workers for the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in 1894, encouraging a nationwide boycott of trains that carried Pullman cars. Railroad traffic and mail delivery were so severely affected that President Grover Cleveland sent in troops to stop the strike, resulting in riots and the death of two men. The political backlash was swift and harsh, leading the president to establish an official federal Labor Day holiday in June 1894.
6. Labor Day is not the same thing as May Day
May Day, celebrated on May 1, is also called International Workers Day, with celebrations in many countries across the globe. Because the public holiday honors workers, it is often confused with Labor Day, but only one is an official federal holiday in the US.
7. Teachers make up the largest union in the US
When Labor Day was first established, most union members worked in various industrial sectors. Currently, the largest labor union is the National Education Association, with about 3 million active, inactive, and lifetime members.
8. Each summer, Americans consume billions of hot dogs by Labor Day
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans eat approximately 7 billion hot dogs each summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day. With a current population of approximately 326 million, that means about 21.5 hot dogs for every man, woman, and child.
9. Wearing white after Labor Day is no longer a fashion faux pas
In previous generations, wearing white after Labor Day indicated you were still in “summer vacation mode,” and many people considered it a fashion faux pas. That strict rule is now a relic of the past. Even the fashion industry regularly showcases “winter whites” during the colder months of the year.
10. Labor Day retail sales are second only to Black Friday
While all government employees and most privatesector workers don’t have to work on Labor Day, there’s one major exception: retail. That’s because Labor Day weekend is one of the most important for retail sales in the US, coming second only to Black Friday.
Flaunt your new knowledge at this year’s Labor Day barbecue
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Posted by Kevin Kelly
Marine Veteran & Content editor and creator.