For younger Americans, Labor Day signals the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Communities, families and friends often celebrate with parades, parties and cookouts. Many children and young adults don’t know the significance of Labor Day and how it came to be. Here’s a brief history that can help explain this national holiday to youngsters.
Labor Day is also known as the “workingperson’s holiday.” That’s because it was created to celebrate and honor hard working Americans that helped build this great country.
So, how did Labor Day come to be? It began in the 19th century.
During the second “Industrial Revolution” America was experiencing an explosion of new and exciting ideas and inventions. In the late 1800s lots of people from rural areas and farms, as well immigrants from other countries, moved into the cities looking for work. This population explosion completely altered the landscape of the American city.
One of the most historical inventions was the creation of the assembly line – a way for workers to make more products quicker and cheaper. Another major change was in transportation. The steam engine allowed trains to carry products and passengers faster and farther than ever before. Coal became the primary source of power to move the train engines, heat buildings and generate electricity. With an abundance of people looking for jobs, factory and mine owners had plenty of willing workers to choose from. While this may have been good for the owners, it was not so good for the workers.
During these times, many people labored very long hours, with little pay, in unsafe factories and mines to produce the products needed. Even children as young as six years old worked all day in the same factories and mines and made even less money than the adults. Their jobs were physically and mentally hard as well as dangerous.
As conditions worsened, the workers decided they needed better and safer places to work, higher wages and an age limit on who could be hired. They formed groups known as unions to help make this happen. Sometimes the union workers would hold marches and protests to complain about the bad conditions and low pay. It wasn’t long before unions grew in membership and spread to different trades (or jobs) around the country.
To accomplish the changes the unions wanted, members organized strikes, protests and rallies. Some of the factory, companies and mine owners fought against the unions by firing the members, bringing in new workers and hiring people that would attack the protesters. On several occasions, police officers were involved in breaking up the protests or removing union workers. Sometimes the protests and strikes became very violent and people lost their lives or were severely injured. It was a very difficult time for people standing up for the right to work in a safe place, for a reasonable amount of time and to be paid an honest wage.
On September 5, 1882, almost 10,000 workers marched to Union Square in New York City marking the first unofficial Labor Day parade in U.S history.
Every year after that, this celebration of workers became more popular in other parts of the United States. In 1887, Oregon was the first state to pass a law making Labor Day a holiday. The same year, other states such as Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York also began passing laws recognizing Labor Day as a holiday.
Seven years later, in 1894, Congress passed an act that made Labor Day a national holiday. From that time till now, the first Monday of September is dedicated to celebrating the bravery and tenacity of American workers.
Happy Labor Day from the KidsDr!