Why do we celebrate Labor Day on the 1st Monday of September? Here’s how it became official

Observed the first Monday in September, Labor Day is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers. (US Dept. of Labor.)

Labor Day may mean the last unofficial day of summer, or an extra day off for most Houstonians.

But have you ever wondered how the federal holiday became official?

Observed on the first Monday of September, Labor Day became an official federal holiday in 1896 by President Grover Cleveland, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It was a response to the crisis over federal efforts to end a strike created by railroad workers.

But Labor Day’s observance began as early as 1882, The New York Times reported, when early records show workers in New York City marched for workers’ rights on Sept. 5, 1882 from City Hall to a giant Uptown picnic. Each year up to its official recognition, more 10,000 workers and labor activists peacefully protested for workers rights and more pay while risking their jobs to participate.

Numerous states adopted a bill to observe Labor Day, beginning with Oregon in 1887. As of 1894, 23 states passed legislation to recognize Labor Day, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But pressure grew in 1894 when workers from the Pullman Palace Car Company walked out to strike against the owner for mistreatment, compromising the entire railroad system in the U.S. The owner was later found guilty for intentionally lowering workers’ pay, increasing work hours, and firing workers for no prior reason, The New York Times reported.

Congress took action in 1894 to pass an act to observe Labor Day on the first Monday of September. President Cleveland signed the law on June 28, 1894, marking a victory to workers rights all over the U.S.

So before you make your last trip to the water park for the summer or fire up the barbecue, be sure to reflect how far we’ve come towards labor rights.

About the Author:

A graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown, Ana moved to H-Town from sunny southern California in 2015. In 2020, she joined the KPRC 2 digital team as an intern. Ana is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, a catmom of 2, and an aquarium enthusiast. In her spare time, she's an avid video gamer and loves to travel.