American History

#OTD 1882: 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade.

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#AceHistoryDesk – Today in History – On September 05: After marching from City Hall, past reviewing stands in Union Square, and then uptown to 42nd Street, the workers and their families gathered in Wendel’s Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches.

Labor Day parade, Main St., Buffalo, N.Y. ca. 1900. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Despite their criminal and, often, violent acts, James and his partners were much adored. Journalists, eager to entertain Easterners with tales of the Wild West, exaggerated and romanticized the gang’s heists, often casting James as a contemporary Robin Hood. While James did harass railroad executives who unjustly seized private land for the railways, modern biographers note that he did so for personal gain—his humanitarian acts were more fiction than fact.

The First Labor Day

This first Labor Day celebration was eagerly organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions. Debate continues to this day as to who originated the idea of a workers’ holiday, but it definitely emerged from the ranks of organized labor at a time when they wanted to demonstrate the strength of their burgeoning movement and inspire improvements in their working conditions.

New York’s Labor Day celebrations inspired similar events across the country. Oregon became the first state to grant legal status to the holiday in 1887; other states soon followed. In 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.

For many decades, Labor Day was viewed by workers not only as a means to celebrate their accomplishments, but also as a day to raise awareness about and discuss strategies for securing better working conditions and salaries. Nowadays, Labor Day is associated less with union activities and protest marches and more with leisure. For many, the holiday is a time for family picnics, sporting events, and summer’s last hurrah.

Miners with Their Children, at the Labor Day Celebration, Silverton, Colorado. Russell Lee, photographer, Sept. 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

Learn More

  • Read about other significant days in the history of labor. Search Today in History on labor to find features such as the history of the eight-hour workday and May Day.
  • Read the Labor Day feature created by specialists in the Library’s Business Reference Services. It is included in the research guide This Month in Business History which highlights stories about the people, places, and events that made their mark on business history.
  • For images and documents pertaining to labor unions, search across the digital collections on the term labor union.
  • The digital collections contain an extensive array of materials related to parades and processions. Search the collections of photographs and prints using the keyword parades, or the name of a specific parade. The collections of motion pictures also document many different kinds of parades including a small Massachusetts town’s celebration of Labor Day.
  • Chronicling America, an online collection of historic newspapers from across the US, documents labor-related activities including struggles and celebrations. A selection of articles about celebrating the national holiday is included in Labor Day: Topics in Chronicling America.
  • The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives collection has more than 60 photographs documenting Silverton, Colorado’s 1940 Labor Day celebration. To see this mining community’s parade and other festivities, search on Silverton.
#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Sept.05: 2022:

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