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Who Should We Thank for Labor Day?

A holiday that celebrates workers - and how it was invented.

By:  |  September 6, 2021  |    383 Words

Main Street on Labor Day, 1907. Phelps, N.Y.

For many Americans, Labor Day is a welcome three-day weekend, and a sign that the end of summer is coming. Many people’s celebrations involve hot dogs, barbecues, water balloon fights, and attending parades. Others continue “laboring” on this day that honors workers.

McGuire or Maguire?

It’s unclear who we have to thank for this Monday holiday – a McGuire or a Maguire (apparently no relation). Peter J. McGuire was an official for of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, as well as a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Some records name him as the first person to suggest a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

GettyImages-1233999509 work manual labor workers

(Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images)

Matthew Maguire, the challenger, was a machinist. Those who give Labor Day credit to Maguire say he proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

How Was It Done?

New York City held the first Labor Day on September 5, 1882. Although New York was the first to celebrate the occasion, Oregon was the first state to pass a law officially recognizing the holiday in 1887.

By 1894, 23 other states had taken up the celebration. On June 28 President Grover Cleveland signed a law to make the first Monday in September a national holiday.

The First Labor Day

The first celebration in New York almost went wrong. Local police officers were concerned that a mob was going to cause a riot and create mayhem. William McCabe, the Grand Marshal of the parade, became nervous as he noticed there were only a few people ready to march, and no band to play the music. Luckily, Matthew Maguire let the frazzled McCabe know that 200 marchers from the Jewelers Union of Newark Two had just arrived. And even better news, they had a band!

The final count of marchers ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 men and women. The parade marched through lower Manhattan, and the New York Tribune reported that: “The windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames were occupied by persons anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization.”

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