Who Invented Labor Day?
Labor Day—the American holiday on the first Monday of September—generally marks the end of summer, the beginning of the school year, and—in certain circles—an arbitrary cut-off point for wearing white. It’s frequently celebrated by taking a long-weekend trip, firing up the backyard grill at home, or going to see a Labor Day parade. Of course, this is assuming you’re lucky enough to actually get the Monday off from work. As I contemplated my holiday weekend activities, I began to wonder: Who invented Labor Day?
1956 US Postal Service three cent stamp honoring Labor Day-in the National Postal Museum’s collections.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to find several informative articles about the history of Labor Day featured on the US Department of Labor (DOL) website. Apparently, as so often happens with invention, there are disputes about who came up with the idea first. DOL acknowledges that two men with coincidentally similar names, Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire, have received credit for suggesting a holiday to honor American workers.
Matthew Maguire and Peter J. McGuire (undated)-from Department of Labor.
Both men were well-respected union leaders working in the New York-New Jersey region during the 1880s—a very active period in the US labor rights movement. Peter McGuire founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and co-founded, with Samuel Gompers, the American Federation of Labor (better known simply as the AFL). Matthew Maguire served as a secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, NJ, and also as the secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York. Although the tide seems to be turning toward giving Maguire the primary credit, both men were clearly influential in speaking up on behalf of their fellow workers.
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