Today, it has become a three day holiday which embraces parties, parades, and athletic events. It is seen as the last “hurrah” of summer and the beginning of fall which officially starts on September 23. What began in the height of the American Industrial Revolution, and is called Labor Day, now gives an expanded meaning from its’ original birth.
129 years ago, Americans were working seven day weeks and 12 hour days. Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor in May of 1882 proposed the day after reportedly seeing an annual labor day festival held in Toronto, Canada. He is credited as the founding father of Labor Day. However, his place in Labor Day history does not go unchallenged. Many people believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, was the man who really founded Labor Day. Mr. Maguire later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey. The claim is that he made the proposal in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is definitely clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic at that time. So, we definitely must include him. The controversy as to the founder continues even to this day. Suffice to say, we can name both men as co-founders. Regardless, the time had come to celebrate American workers achievements.
The first big Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5,1882. Coincidentally the same day as we observed it this year, 2011. The first proposal of the new holiday was a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength of the trade and labor organizations followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This “workingman’s holiday” was to give thanks for their efforts. A celebration and display of American workers - at the time, unparalleled in all the world. It was the envy of every other nation.
On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a national holiday in “all territories and the District of Columbia. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law. The first Monday in September was the day picked for Labor Day.
From this beginning, this special day we celebrate includes what has become to be known as the end of summer and the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. The National Football League traditionally plays their first game the Thursday following Labor Day.
This past weekend displayed yet another three day bonanza of fun! Cookouts with family and friends, the last vacation to the beach or mountains all were part of this 72 hour celebration. Businesses beckoned customers to come in and take advantage of sales. Hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, chicken and steaks became a part of this big “grill out”. Some of us went fishing, golfing, mountain climbing, boating, a visit to Lake Lure or the village of Chimney Rock - any and all recreational things and places which we enjoy. Many things have been added to this holiday. Today, it has taken on added meanings.
However, we should never forget what started it all. The force of labor added to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known. It brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. We can still, as a nation, take the time and pay tribute on Labor Day to the founder of our nation’s strength, freedom and leadership - without any doubt - the American Worker.
So as you enjoyed the “thrill of the grill”, this years last summer vacation, the bargains you got at stores, and tonight, Thursday, watch the opening game of the National Football League, take the time to salute what stared it all!