What are your plans for this Labor Day? Do they involve hot dogs, barbecues, water balloon fights, and attending parades? Or will you be “laboring” on this day that celebrates and honors the American workers? For many Americans, it’s a much-appreciated three-day weekend, and not much more thought is put into the time away from work. For others, it’s the last shindig before school starts and a sign of the end of summer and swimming pools and the beginning of the fall and holiday season.
Who Done it?
It’s unclear, however, who we have to thank for this Monday holiday – either a McGuire or a Maguire (apparently no relation). Peter J. McGuire was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners as well as a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Some records appoint 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.”
Matthew Maguire, the challenger, was a machinist and then later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, NJ. Those who give Labor Day credit to Maguire say he proposed the holiday in 1882 while he was serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
Well, we thank you, whoever it was, for giving us this national holiday to relax, honor, and celebrate with our friends and families.
How was it Done?
New York City held the first Labor Day holiday and celebration on Sept. 5, 1882, and the Central Labor Union held its own the next year, also on Sept. 5. By 1894, 23 other states had taken up the holiday and started celebrating, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the law that made the first Monday in September a national holiday.
Although New York was the first to celebrate the occasion, Oregon was the first state to pass the law officially recognizing the holiday in 1887. Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and then New York followed suit.
The First Labor Day
The first celebration in New York almost didn’t turn out too great. Local law enforcement officers were antsy, concerned a mob was going to cause a riot and create all sorts of mayhem. By 9 a.m. on Sept. 5, 1882, officers with clubs were on horseback and had surrounded city hall. A newspaper described the day as “…men on horseback, men wearing regalia, men with society aprons, and men with flags, musical instruments, badges, and all the other paraphernalia of a procession.”
At 10 a.m., William McCabe, the Grand Marshall of the parade, became nervous as he noticed there were only a few people ready to march, but there was no band to provide the marching music. Then Maguire let the frazzled McCabe know that 200 marchers from the Jewelers Union of Newark Two had just crossed the ferry. And even better news, they had a band!
The band marched onto lower Broadway playing “When I First Put This Uniform On” from the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, Patience. The final count of marchers ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 of both 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.”
The post-parade party included about 25,000 union members and their families, a picnic, speeches, an abundance of cigars, and “Lager beer kegs … mounted in every conceivable place.”