Library Corner: The History of Labor Day |

Library Corner: The History of Labor Day

Tallie Gray
Director of Library Resources
Illustration published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of the first demonstration by American workers in the New York City Parade on September 5, 1882.
Courtesy of GCLD

The first Monday of every September is designated as Labor Day. This federal holiday dates to the late 19th century when there was a push for improving workers’ rights in the United States.

Before the labor movement, many Americans worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, for low wages and in dangerous conditions. Farms, factories, and mines often took advantage of children, placing them in harsh and unsafe jobs.

Peter J. McGuire, a union leader, is credited for creating the notion of Labor Day. The Knights of Labor developed McGuire’s idea by having over 10,000 workers march in the 1882 New York City Parade to honor American workers, and by 1884 they adopted a resolution to observe Labor Day on the first Monday of September.

Some state governments took notice of the call to celebrate those who helped build our nation. In 1887, Colorado joined Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York as one of the first states to develop state legislation to create the Labor Day holiday. Within seven years, 23 states adopted the holiday.

But unfair work conditions were still apparent. In 1894, when the Pullman Palace Car Company reduced wages without lowering rates of the company housing rentals, enough was enough. More protests, strikes, and riots were held. To deflect this unrest, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday on June 28, 1894.

Labor Day has become a celebratory day that recognizes the strength and prosperity that laborers contributed to the social and economic achievements of our country. Parades and picnics highlight the day, just like the first celebrations over 125 years ago when “Labor built this republic and labor shall rule it” was a popular slogan seen on parade banners. Store sales and barbecues are modern day associations with this three-day weekend.

If you want to learn more about Labor Day, and just about any other topic, check out the Britannica Library, free for patrons of Grand County Library District (GCLD). By using a GCLD library card number, you can access this award-winning resource online. The Britannica Library has three reading levels: Children, Young Adults, and Reference Center. Just search “Labor Day” and you will find the same article in each category but rewritten for each specific reading level.

Although all GCLD branches will be closed on September 2 in observance of Labor Day, you can still utilize our online resources by clicking on the ‘eBooks & Learning Tools’ tab at

And if you encounter anyone having to work on Labor Day, please thank them for their service.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.

Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.

If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User