Five Facts You Didn’t Know About Labor Day

September 6, 2016

1. It started on a Tuesday.
What we know today as a burger-eating and beer-drinking farewell to summer started as a parade in New York City in 1882. According to Linda Stinson, a former historian for the Department of Labor, the union leaders back then called for a giant “labor festival” on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882.

The late 1800s ushered in the formation of labor unions to combat the bleak working environments facing U.S. workers: dangerous factories, grueling hours and inconsistent/unfair wages. While union strikes and protests rocked cities across the nation, the New York parade in 1882 was intended to be a celebration.

First Labor Day Parade - Library of Congress by way of USA Today

Legend has it, the parade took a while to get started as attendance was sparse in the morning. Organizers worried workers were reluctant to give up a day’s pay to join the march from City Hall to Union Square. Their worries were assuaged by the afternoon when more than 10,000 people took an unpaid day off to take over the streets of New York in what the press called “a day of the people.”

2. Then it switched to a Monday.
Despite the 1882 celebratory parade, union strikes continued to result in riots across the country. According to some sources, one particularly violent riot in Cleveland finally urged congress to pass an act on June 28, 1894, which stated that the first Monday in September would be “Labor Day” nationwide and an official legal holiday.

3. And sometimes we celebrate on Saturday.
To this day, there is still a parade in New York City to commemorate the holiday. This year’s NYC parade was on Saturday.

4. Canada also celebrates, but spells it wrong.
Canada also celebrates Labour Day on the first Monday in September. The Toronto Star calls it a “Colourful reminder of a dark day in labour’s history.”

Labour Day - Toronto Star

The Toronto Trades and Labour Assembly was founded in 1871 by representatives of the city’s emerging economy, including barrel makers, cigar makers, bakers and metalworkers.

On March 25, 1872, printers with the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to fight for a nine-hour workday. The Trades and Labour Assembly led the strike and organized a march on April 15, 1872 to support the cause. The parade drew nearly 10,000 people by the time it reached Queen’s Park, where a plaque now commemorates the day.

5. Labor Day isn’t actually the last day of summer.
The true last day of summer this year is Sept. 21, preceding the Fall Equinox on Sept. 22. Unlike most holidays that are scheduled by religious beliefs or the Hallmark company, the Fall or Autumnal Equinox is actually a celestial holiday with the sun crossing the celestial equator going southward – rising exactly due east and setting exactly due west. Which means, the hours of daylight vs. night are equal on that day. We then plunge into the time of the year when there are more hours of darkness than there are of sunlight. Minnesota winter, here we come!