Labor Day: A brief history of the holiday and why we celebrate

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Though it may be known as the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day is actually a day to celebrate the achievements of workers. 

According to History.com, Labor Day originated at a time when working conditions in the U.S. were often poor and unsafe. The website reported that the average American worked 12-hour days seven days a week just to make a living. 

Around that time, labor unions began to organize in protest of poor conditions and low pay, History.com reported. 

The country’s first Labor Day parade happened in 1882 when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off work to march in New York City, History.com reported. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Central Labor Union organized that event.

Though the exact origins of Labor Day are unclear, according to the DOL, it was created by either Peter J. McGuire or Matthew Maguire – both union leaders – in the 1880s. 

Both men attended the first Labor Day parade in New York City, the DOL says on its website. 

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Even though the first Labor Day parade happened in 1882, it wasn’t officially recognized anywhere in the U.S. until 1887, when Oregon passed legislation to make it a state holiday. 

The 2011 Labor Day Parade in Manhattanis pictured. Members of New York City Fire Department with classic Mack Engine 343, marching toward north on 5th Avenue. (iStock)

After Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York followed suit and made Labor Day official state holidays. 

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However, it wasn’t until 1894 when Labor Day became a federal holiday, which was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. The law stated that Labor Day would fall on the first Monday of September and it still does today. 

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