September 5, 2022
Today is the end of summer. Not officially, of course—officially we have another seventeen days to wait before the long days of summer must surrender to the lengthening nights. But in a practical sense, today closes the summer season that Memorial Day opened, both holidays deposed from their lofty origins and forced to serve the purposes of tourism and recreation.
It wasn’t meant to be this way.
The founders of Labor Day intended that the new holiday celebrate those whose labor built the American Dream. They envisioned street parades composed of union workers, followed by festivals for the workers and their families. Their dream became a reality on June 28, 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a federal holiday.
The first Labor Day parade was held in New York on September 5, 1882. Upwards of 10,000 union workers took the day off without pay to participate in a march from City Hall to Union Square, followed by a picnic and celebration. The date was chosen simply because it marked the half-way point between July 4 and Thanksgiving.
Due to the parade’s success, other states also adopted the idea of a day to celebrate labor, choosing a variety of dates. By 1894, thirty states celebrated Labor Day.
The summer of 1894 was defined by the Pullman Railway Strike. Brought on by rising rents and falling wages in the company town of Pullman, Illinois, the strike crippled the American rail industry. Federal troops were eventually sent to break the strike and get the trains moving again. In an effort to appease Labor leaders, President Cleveland signed Labor Day legislation that same month, making the first Monday in September a holiday for all federal employees.