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A Brief History of Labor Day

NATIONWIDE – For many Americans Labor Day is a well-earned day off and the conclusion of an enjoyable three-day weekend.


What You Need To Know

  • Labor Day celebrated on the first Monday of September
  • Got its start with municipal ordinances in 1885 and 1886
  • Signed into law in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland

Ever wonder how the federal holiday got started? For that you have to go all the way back to the 1800s.

The holiday is a yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the United States, and way back in 1885 and 1886, the first governmental recognition came via municipal ordinances.

Illustration of the first American Labor parade held in New York City on September 5, 1882 as it appeared in Frank Leslie’s Weekly Illustrated Newspaper’s September 16, 1882 issue.

From those ordinances, efforts grew to secure state legislation. Legislation was first introduced in New York, but the first law was passed in Oregon on February 21, 1887. That was followed by four more states the same year: New Jersey, Colorado, New York, and Massachusetts.

By 1894, dozens more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of September a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Officially, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882. President Grover Cleveland signed the holiday into law on June 28, 1894.

The first proposal for Labor Day stipulated it be celebrated with a street parade to demonstrate to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” This was to be followed by a celebration for workers and their families.

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