History of Labor Day
Origins of Labor Day in America
Labor Day was first celebrated in the United States in 1882, dedicated to the achievements of American workers. It serves as an annual tribute to American workers' contributions to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the United States.
According to historians, there is some debate over the origins of Labor Day. The United States Department of Labor describes the origins of Labor Day:
"Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."
...Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic."
The first Labor Day celebration was held on September 5, 1882 in New York City, including a parade and picnic. On June 28, 1894, Congress declared Labor Day a federal holiday, following 23 states and several municipalities, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
Labor Day Resources and Lesson Plans
- The U.S. Department of Labor: Labor Day History
- American Labor Studies Center
Resources for K-12 teachers, including labor lesson plans, labor songs, labor quotes, timelines, biographies, and more.
- Lesson Plan: A Worker's Compensation
In this lesson, students explore the history of Labor Day while learning how to cite Web sites in correct MLA bibliographical format.
- Labor Day resources for educators
Labor Day Lesson Plans and Activities from Education World©
- Lesson Plan: Labor Day (from Instructor Web)
Reading Comprehension lesson, Grades 3-5
- Writing Prompt: Labor Day
Writing activity for elementary and middle school students
- Video: Workers Compensation History (YouTube)
Ten-minute video created by high school students in Houston, Texas, discusses workers compensation, using historical photographs and documents. Includes a photo and prompt about the most important job in your community.
Continuing the Tradition
In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, referred to Labor Day as "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed... that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."
New York City continues to hold the country's largest Labor Day celebration each September. Pittsburgh annually holds the second largest Labor Day parade, with more than 50,000 union members and their families marching the streets of downtown Pittsburgh. Each year, PSEA members represent our Association in the Pittsburgh parade.