Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Labor Day

No One Really Knows Who Invented It

As the legend goes, young carpenter Peter McGuire stood before the New York Central Labor Union in May 1882 proclaiming his plan to honor all workers with a parade through the city. But another union worker, the similarly named machinist Matthew Maguire, is also credited with proposing a day off for laborers. A New Jersey newspaper published an opinion article touting Maguire as the Father of Labor Day, but only after the day became a national holiday in 1894.

The Holiday Marks the End of Hot-Dog Season

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, during "hot dog season," which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans consume roughly 7 billion hot dogs, or about 818 hot dogs every second. That total is thanks in large part to another holiday, Independence Day. 

Union Membership Is at a 60-Year Low

Labor unions aren't what they used to be. In the 1950s, at the height of union participation in the U.S., more than a third of all American workers belonged to unions. Participation has waned for decades, which has weakened many unions across the country. Remember the Wisconsin public employees who fought Republican Governor Scott Walker earlier this year over collective-bargaining rights? Well, they lost most of those rights. 

A Fire Ignited the Labor Movement

The infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 took the lives of 136 people in just 18 minutes. Though the factory owners were indicted on charges of manslaughter, they were later acquitted and actually profited from insurance claims. The tragic blaze — likely caused by a cigarette — did, however, raise awareness of poor working conditions at the factory and other warehouses like it, prompting the start of the labor movement and a call for safer work environments.

President Cleveland Didn't Like Unions

Although President Grover Cleveland signed the 1894 law that made Labor Day a federal holiday, he did so with political motives in mind. The President was concerned only with the fact that the strike had spread to other states, disrupting mail service and interstate commerce. Mindful of his future re-election campaign, made appeasement a top priority, so labor legislation was rushed through Congress and the bill passed just six days after the strike's end.

Oregon Was the First State to Declare Labor Day a Holiday

Oregon was the first state to pass a law declaring Labor Day a state holiday on Feb. 21, 1887, giving the state's workers a free pass to not come in that day. However, the Beaver State inexplicably placed the holiday on the first Saturday in June. Thankfully, when Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York each made Labor Day an official holiday in 1887, they chose to observe it on a weekday, giving workers the extra-long weekend we still enjoy to this day.

Labor Day's Origins Are Canadian

Following labor disputes in Toronto, the first worker parades occurred in 1872. Soon after, anti–labor union laws were repealed. A decade later, union activist Peter McGuire, whom some call the founder of our American Labor Day, spoke at a Canadian labor festival in 1882 and was so impressed that he proposed the idea of a workers' national holiday to a New York labor union later that same year.

Labor Day Was Almost May 1

In 1884, the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared that by May 1, 1886, all employers institute an eight-hour workday. When that proclamation failed to come to fruition, workers moved to strike, sparking the brutal Haymarket Riot in Chicago. Years later in 1894, fearing the tainted history of that date would continually lead to radical movements commemorating the riots, President Grover Cleveland decided to follow the lead of several states and make the first Monday in September the official holiday for laborers.

The Rule 'No White After Labor Day' Has Historical Roots

Historians think this maxim stems from class divisions at the turn of the century when lightweight clothes were a symbol of the leisure classes.  While there's a practical reason for the rule — white clothes dirty easily thus making them ill-suited for heavy autumn rains and winter slush — those who carried the rule through the decades had a less than practical reason for doing so. Indeed, as the years went by, traditionalists and nouveau riche alike continued to eschew winter whites throughout the 20th century in order to remain acceptable in high society. 

Time Magazine


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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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