A Holiday for Working America

Labor Day Parade on Bucyrus Square, 1900. Courtesy of Bucyrus Historical Society. Via Ohio Memory.

Have you been looking forward to the three-day weekend that accompanies the celebration of Labor Day? Have you ever wondered what led to the long weekend in September? Always observed during the first Monday of September, Labor Day, as the name suggests, is the annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.
Before it was a recognized federal holiday, Labor Day was celebrated in a few individual states, with lobbying for its celebration beginning as early as 1882. Oregon was the first state to implement the holiday in February of 1887; Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York quickly followed. In the early 1890s twenty-three more states, including Ohio, began to recognize the holiday. By 1894 the United States Congress passed an act dedicating the first Monday of September to America’s workers, and it was signed into law by Grover Cleveland.

Since it became a federal holiday in 1894 Labor Day has been celebrated by Americans acrossthe country. But who came up with the initial idea for the holiday in the first place? While there is no clear answer, most historians agree that Matthew Maguire, a machinist in New York City, proposed the idea of the holiday in 1882 while serving as the secretary for the Central Labor Union in New York. Although there is no consensus on if Maguire is the first person to suggest the holiday, he certainly played a role as one New York newspaper stated “the souvenir pen should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.” Regardless of if Maguire can be credited with the idea or not, one thing is for certain, Maguire fought for the holiday and attended the country’s first ever Labor Day parade held in New York City.

Labor Day in Newark, Ohio Broadside, September 05, 1904. Courtesy of Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

Following Maguire’s lead, many Americans spend Labor Day celebrating by attending parades such as the one pictured above, held in Bucyrus, Ohio in 1900. However, by the early 1900s, many cities celebrated with more than just parades and would go on to create entire itineraries of celebratory activities for the holiday. Such as this Labor Day celebration in Newark, Ohio, in 1904, who started their day off with the traditional parade but would spend the rest of the day giving speeches, hosting a greased pole contest as well as a watermelon contest, and many more activities, before ending the night with a concert and fireworks. Labor Day has created an abundance of traditions in this country, and state by state, and city by city, they all vary.

Milan Homecoming and Melon Festival program,1966. Courtesy of Milan-Berlin Library District. Via Ohio Memory.

Milan, Ohio, created its own festival tradition called the Milan Melon festival, annually held Labor Day weekend to not only celebrate the holiday, but to celebrate the specific region’s abundance of muskmelons. The festival has been held every year since 1958.


One thing is for certain, no matter where you are in Ohio, or in America, there is a rich tradition of celebration around Labor Day, whether it is by parade or concert, or simply relaxing on a day off. Labor Day exists to celebrate the American worker in years past and present, happy Labor Day!

Thank you to Lauren Kennedy, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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