History of Labor Day

Origins of Labor Day in America

Labor Day Parade BuffaloLabor Day was first celebrated in the United States in 1882, dedicated to the achievements of American workers. It serves as an annual tribute to American workers' contributions to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the United States.

According to historians, there is some debate over the origins of Labor Day. The United States Department of Labor describes the origins of Labor Day:

"Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

...Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the 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. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic."

The first Labor Day celebration was held on September 5, 1882 in New York City, including a parade and picnic. On June 28, 1894, Congress declared Labor Day a federal holiday, following 23 states and several municipalities, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Labor Day Resources and Lesson Plans

Continuing the Tradition

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, referred to Labor Day as "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed... that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

New York City continues to hold the country's largest Labor Day celebration each September. Pittsburgh annually holds the second largest Labor Day parade, with more than 50,000 union members and their families marching the streets of downtown Pittsburgh. Each year, PSEA members represent our Association in the Pittsburgh parade.


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