The Unofficial Last Day of Summer

A little Labor Day history

Ever wonder how you get that one last long weekend before summer ends? We all know that it is called Labor Day, but why?

Labor Day began in 1882, but by whom is still argued about. Some say it was Matthew Maguire, but others say it was Peter J. McGuire in May of 1882. Matthew Maguire was secretary of the Central Labor Union while Peter McGuire was with the American Federation of Labor. We may never really know which man founded the holiday, but what is for certain is that it was founded by a labor union. Even though Labor Day wasn’t officially a federal holiday for several more years, Oregon made it a holiday on February 21, 1887. Thirty more states would follow before it became official.

Pullman Train CarThe big push for Labor Day to became a federal holiday came about after a tragic event. Pullman, Illinois is where this occurred in 1893. George Pullman owned the Pullman Company in which they made railroad sleeper cars. He basically owned the town by controlling the rent of the houses and taking the rent directly out of the workers’ paychecks. Being hurt by the depression, orders declined, and Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of workers. For those who stayed, their wages were lowered while rent was not. The employees walked out with the support of Eugene V. Debs of the American Railway Union. Railroad workers across the country began boycotting trains carrying Pullman cars, and soon rioting, pillaging, and burning of the railroad cars followed.

President_Grover_Cleveland_RestoredPresident Grover Cleveland was forced to take action after the strike interfered with mail cars and other necessities for the nation. He declared the strike a federal crime and sent over 12,000 troops to break it up. Two men were killed by U.S. Marshals when violence erupted in Kensington, Illinois. On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over.

The United States Congress tried to appease the nation by rushing in a bill to make Labor Day an official national holiday. Because it was an election year, President Cleveland signed it into law just six days after the strike ended. Even though he was not re-elected, he made it possible for the hard workers of the nation to have a holiday where they can relax and take the day off.

Parades and picnics were held for the workers and their families when the law first began to be observed. That is why we celebrate that way today. Everyone knows somebody having a Labor Day cookout. Most of us are off work and get to enjoy the “last day of summer.” If you work in retail, you pretty much have to work as Labor Day has become a day full of huge sales. It has become a weekend that stands along with Black Friday. School begins, college football starts, and the NFL regular season play begins the Thursday after Labor Day.

The first Monday of September means something different for everyone. Some enjoy the sales, kids dread going back to school, and sport fans get pumped for football! For the union and labor workers, it means a day where they get a break. A day where they can enjoy their families with picnics and parades.

While you enjoy the last day of the fair, remember those who fought for this last day of summer. Have a cookout in their honor!

How do you celebrate labor day? Leave a comment in the section below.

Trent Ford
Author: Trent Ford

Trent is a graduate of Madison High School and a new resident of Geauga County. He enjoys spending time with his family, history, and the outdoors, but his passion is sports, both local and professional.