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10 Labor Day facts about the holiday's storied history

Test yourself with a bit of trivia — and learn why it's more than just a three-day weekend.

Many people consider Memorial Day to be the official start of summer, and Labor Day is the bookend that brings it to a close.

It’s no wonder, since it’s the perfect way to say goodbye to summer: a day off on a Monday (woo-hoo!) makes for a three-day weekend packed with backyard barbecues, boat rides and end-of-the-season beach trips.

But the holiday wasn’t always the fancy-free, idyllic day we've come to know and love. Many Americans don’t realize that it’s a day steeped in history, and came about as a result of working people simply wanting to be treated fairly.

Before you beeline to the beach (or wherever else the long weekend takes you), read these fun and fascinating Labor Day facts to learn more about the holiday's past and present.

It all started with a parade 

It’s widely believed that on September 5, 1882, union leaders marched in what is thought of as the very first Labor Day parade. Over 20,000 disgruntled New York City workers from a wide variety of industries, such as clothing makers and railroad workers (including children), had enough of their unsafe working conditions after being forced to work over 12 hours a day in spaces that were making them sick.

Post-parade activities haven't changed

After marching just under five miles from New York City’s City Hall to 42nd Street, the workers, who took unpaid leave to be at the event, met up with their families for various activities like enjoying picnics and lighting fireworks.

Canada celebrated "Labour Day" before us

“Labour Day," as it’s spelled by our neighbors to the north, was first celebrated in Canada in 1894 — on the first Monday of September, just like us.

Although it didn't become official until 1894, the holiday started percolating decades before that through a series of demonstrations. According to CBC News, on March 25, 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike in favor of a shorter workweek. Many protesters were jailed, but later that year, Parliament legalized unions.

The founder of Labor Day is widely contested  

No one is 100% sure who actually started Labor Day here in the United States, but it’s between two people and their last names are incredibly similar. While some records show that Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, got it going, others believe that Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first sparked the concept.

Peter J. McGuire
Peter J. McGuire was key organizer of the Labor Day parade that eventually led to the establishment of the holiday.Harold M. Lambert / Getty Images

Oregon was the first state to observe Labor Day 

Before becoming an official holiday nationwide, Labor Day was adopted state by state. Oregon was the first one to make it a statewide holiday, a full seven years before it was passed by Congress.  

President Grover Cleveland made it a federal holiday

On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day official by signing it into law, designating the first Monday in September to always be Labor Day. The day honors the American labor force and the upholding of laws that make work conditions healthier and safer.

Coco Chanel broke the “no white after Labor Day” rule

In the late 19th century, the upper crust of society created this unofficial rule. "It [was] insiders trying to keep other people out and outsiders trying to climb in by proving they know the rules,” Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Time.

But today, people have begun to disregard the old rule. In fact, as far back as the 1920s, fashion designer Coco Chanel would wear white all year-round, and many chic sorts have done the same since then. The moral of the story? Wear those white pants in October.

There’s still a New York City Labor Day parade today

Currently, the New York City Central Labor Council still puts on a Labor Day parade, which is held just north of the location of the original 1882 march.  

Labor Day Parade
Thousands of laborers march up Fifth Avenue in the annual Labor Day Parade in New York, on September 12, 2015.Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Labor Day is observed on a Monday for a reason

While the very first Labor Day in 1882 took place on a Tuesday, it switched to a Monday once it was adopted by the states.

Nowadays, Labor Day takes place on a Monday so employees can enjoy a three-day weekend. Other federal holidays are observed on Mondays as well (like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Memorial Day) and will stay that way thanks to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, something that ensured that federal employees could have three-day holiday weekends.

Labor Day continues to celebrate millions in the workforce 

As the United States Census Bureau reports, as of 2017, Labor Day honors 159.8 million people, all 16 and over, in the nation’s labor force.

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