Peter McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and general secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, is often recognized as being responsible for the first suggestion of Labor Day. An issue with recognizing McGuire as the first person to suggest Labor Day is a man named Matthew Maguire.
Matthew Maguire was a machinist, secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists. Those who believe that Maguire and not McGuire first suggested Labor Day assert that Maguire made the suggestion while he was secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882.
It was indeed in New York City, in 1882, that the first Labor Day observance was held, when more than 10,000 workers walked off their jobs, parade-style, on a Tuesday. The majority did so without permission.
The Central Labor Union suggested that labor unions in other cities join in to celebrate the contributions of working men. The idea quickly spread from New York to other industrial areas by 1884. Despite the efforts of workers in New York, Oregon was actually the first state to make Labor Day a holiday in 1887. By the end of the year, New York and three other states followed suit.
After hundreds of employees were laid off in 1893, the Pullman Strike led to the nationwide boycott of trains with Pullman Cars, rioting, and the deaths of two striking workers. Although he'd been a staunch opponent, President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federally recognized holiday in 1894, pushing it through Congress in just six days.
Canada also celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday in September. But several other countries celebrate it on May 1. The fashion faux pas of not wearing white after Labor Day is history. Wearing white after Labor Day is quite acceptable and promoted in many stores.
Labor Day is the “official” end of hot dog season. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans eat more than 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Detroit was responsible for a shortened workday during the early labor movement. Houston’s Mix 96.5 says Detroit workers demanded a pay raise of $2 per hour and that the workday be shortened to 10 hours.
Labor Day is the unofficial end of the summer season, a time for one last barbecue or dip in the pool. However you celebrate, make the most of your day and raise a glass to the holiday's history.
- from the BWM Northwest newsletter