Most of us think of Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, but the Labor Day holiday was originally created to pay tribute to the contributions of the American worker.
Labor leaders of the late 19th century advocated for the holiday when the labor movement was already flourishing across U.S. industrial centers.
Credit for proposing the holiday has been given to either Peter J. McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
The Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic on September 5th 1882 in downtown Manhattan.
Approximately 10,000 workers took unpaid time off and marched from City Hall to Union Square, effectively holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. History.
The effort to honor and support workers rights led to marches protests and labor strikes throughout the late 19th century, eventually leading to the Pullman Strike and Boycott of 1894.
The Pullman Company, a very successful railroad car manufacturer headquartered near Chicago provided good wages to its workers and even established a "company town" in Pullman, Illinois.
This town provided workers with housing, retail, and other infrastructure in exchange for rent and fees deducted from the worker's pay. When the Panic of 1893 took hold, Pullman reduced their workers wages by about 25%, but did not reduce the amount deducted from their paychecks for living costs.
When a group of workers presented their concerns to management, they were promptly fired as a result. The famous labor leader, Eugene V. Debs, led a boycott and strike against Pullman, starting in May 1894, which disrupted rail service on a national level.
Railroad industry magnates appealed to President Grover Cleveland to take federal action. Cleveland was initially hesitant to involve federal forces against American citizens, but after much deliberation he ordered troops to intervene, which eventually led to violent clashes and the deaths of 30 strikers as well as property damage of over 80 million dollars.
In the aftermath of the Pullman strike, President Cleveland and Congress decided to establish a holiday to reconcile the strife and discord between government leaders and organized labor.
Labor Day was signed into law as a federal holiday on June 28th 1894 - to be celebrated on the first Monday in September.