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Labor Day: A History of the 'Workingmen's Holiday'

It all started 130 years ago...

When the Labor Day holiday began is well documented.

Who first suggested the holiday isn't as clear cut.

The Labor Day holiday was first proposed in 1882, according to the U. S. Department of Labor's web site.

Some historians say Peter McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first to suggest a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

However, many historians credit Matthew Maguire, a machinist, with first suggesting the holiday.

They say Maguire, who later became secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

Either way, the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal that year and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City under the guidance of the Central Labor Union.

A second Labor Day was observed a year later on Sept. 5, 1883, in New York.

In 1884, the labor union selected the first Monday of September as the day to celebrate Labor Day. It urged other municipalities to observe a "workingmen's holiday" on that same date.

Many regions held their first Labor Day celebrations in 1885.

In February 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Later that year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York followed suit. By 1894, 23 states had adopted Labor Day holidays.

In June 1894, Congress approved a Labor Day recognition for Washington, D.C., as well as U.S. territories. In 1893, railroad workers in Pullman, Illinois had called a strike in protest of reduced wages and a 16-hour workday. Pullman was a company town controlled by the Pullman Palace Car Company. Despite pay cuts, the workers got no cut in the rent paid on their homes, which were owned by Pullman.

The strike halted all passenger and mail traffic west of Chicago. President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 troops to put down the strike. The new holiday, rushed through Congress, might have been Cleveland's attempt to quell public anger over his handling of the strike, according to The Writer's Almanac.

The first labor council proposal for a Labor Day holiday recommended a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

That model is the basis for most Labor Day celebrations today.

Since then, Labor Day has also become the official starting date for political campaigns gearing up for November elections. Other countries commemorate International Workers' Day, the Labor Day equivalent, on May 1.

Here are a couple of interesting Labor Day facts taken from an article on The Huffington Post:

• Labor Day had its origins in Canada, where in 1872 a parade was held in Toronto to support a strike against a 58-hour work week.

• The tradition of not wearing white after Labor Day may have started in the early 20th century. That's when white was the color worn by Americans well-to-do enough to decamp from their city digs to warmer climates for months at a time.

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