What is Labor Day about?—Exploring the Meaning of Labor Day

“What is Labor Day about?” Explore the Meaning of Labor Day

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Home » “What is Labor Day about?” Explore the Meaning of Labor Day

Celebrating the Meaning of Labor Day

Many Americans celebrate Labor Day with parties, parades, picnics, and cookouts. But it's important to remember who and what we are celebrating: American workers and labor.

“American labor has raised the nation’s standard of living and contributed to the greatest production the world has ever known… the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership—the American worker.” – DOL.gov (U.S. Department of Labor)

Labor Day is a meaningful holiday, but it shouldn’t be the only time we celebrate workers and colleagues. Why is employee recognition important? Employee recognition impacts everything from productivity to team morale and from staff retention to company culture. That's why it’s always the right time to celebrate employees!


What is Labor Day?

Labor Day is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers. Labor Day is the first Monday of every September.

The First Labor Day

September 5, 1882, the Central Labor Union held the first Labor Day celebration in New York City. Although federal Labor Day is on a Monday, the first celebration took place on a Tuesday.

What is Labor Day about? Image of the first Labor Day parade.

History of Labor Day

The meaning of Labor Day is rooted in the late nineteenth century, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That was when labor activists proposed “a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.”

Before it was a federal holiday, Labor Day was recognized by labor activists and individual states:

  • New York was the first state to introduce a Labor Day bill.
  • February 21, 1887, Oregon was the first state to pass a law recognizing Labor Day. Oregon was followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York passing Labor Day laws the same year. 
  • By 1890, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit, and by 1894, 23 more states adopted the Labor Day holiday.
What is Labor Day about? The history of Labor Day according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

On June 28, 1894, Congress and President Grover Cleveland passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday, Labor Day.

Who is the founder of Labor Day?

Oddly enough, researchers have credited two unrelated men as the founder of Labor Day.

Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire:

  • Peter McGuire was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.
  • Matthew Maguire was the secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. He later became a secretary of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey.

Both men are rumored to have proposed the holiday in 1882, and both attended the country’s first Labor Day parade in New York City.

How to Celebrate Workers and Employees Easily Using Video

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