Historians Debate True Founder
By Tom Emery
This weekend, millions of Americans will hit the road, fire up the grill, and swarm to the beaches for the Labor Day weekend. The holiday has evolved dramatically from its origins, which are debated today.
What is clear, though, is the designation of Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894 arose from a tenuous labor dispute in Illinois. The Pullman strike, remembered today as a landmark in American labor history, caused such ill feelings between workers and the government that President Grover Cleveland, as a conciliatory measure, signed an order establishing Labor Day as a federal holiday on the first Monday of September.
However, Labor Day was nothing new in America. Some believe that its roots are actually Canadian, in an 1872 parade in Toronto to support a strike against a 58-hour work week. A decade later, a proposal was presented at a Central Labor Union meeting in New York in May 1882 for a “monster labor festival” in early September.
The result was the first Labor Day parade, held near city hall and along Broadway in New York on Sept. 5, 1882. Police, concerned that confrontations may occur, surrounded city hall on horseback and on foot, many of them carrying clubs. An hour later, only a handful of marchers had shown up, and there was no musical accompaniment. Just in time, two hundred members from the Jewelers Union of Newark arrived with a band, and the procession began. Continue