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This Month in Business History

Labor Day

Detroit Publishing Co., publisher. Labor Day parade, Main St., Buffalo, N.Y.. c1901. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Many Americans may think Labor Day as the end of summer or a day of rest, parades, picnics, or store sales. Labor Day is so much more.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 at the behest of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union pushed other organizations to follow and by 1894 23 other states had adopted the holiday. In 1894 Eugene V. Debs led members of the American Railway Union on strike in what is known as the Pullman strike. This strike had major economic implications and soon President Grover Cleveland declared it a federal crime and deployed troops to break it up. Violence erupted, and two men were killed. As a way to calm tensions after the death strike, on June 28, 1894 Labor Day as a legal holiday on the first Monday of September was approved.

There are a number of books on Labor Day and the history of labor in the United States while the Library’s Manuscript Reading Room has President Cleveland’s papers. Also, the National Archives has a nice online photographic exhibit called The Way We Worked that documents the clothing, locales, conditions, and conflict in our workplaces.

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