Every year on the first Monday in September, the US government recognizes and celebrates the achievements in history for all working Americans. Constructed in the late 1800s by the labor movement, the US Department of Labor states that Labor Day officially became a federal holiday in 1894 at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
According to History.com, in the late 19th century the average American worked seven days a week, 12 hours per day to afford living in a house and provide enough meals for their family. As labor unions began to emerge and grow, the groups started rallying against poor working conditions, along with long hours hours and insufficient pay.
History.com stated the labor movement was successful in putting an end to matters such as child labor. Children as young as 5 years old were sent to work in factories and mills around the country. Additionally, many immigrants and lower class Americans were placed in hazardous working environments, without access to current day requirements like clean air, work breaks and sanitary facilities.
According to the History Channel, a secret society of tailors known as the Knights of Labor began in Philadelphia in 1869, which some regard to as a large contribution to the labor movement, while others see the society as igniting unfavorable commotion. The article stated that by the late 1870s after the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 – where riots broke out in various cities throughout the US against railroads – the membership of the society grew substantially.
History.com stated that in 1879, the Irish-American Politician Terence V. Powderly headed up what turned into an organization of the Knights of Labor, and by 1886 the group had 700,000 members. Powderly was known for his efforts on striving to reorganize the typical American’s work day, with an 8-hour work day, along with child labor laws and various political reforms.
The Knights of Labor were blamed for numerous protests that turned brutal, such as the Haymarket Riot of 1886, which the Illinois Labor History Society stated that the event comprised of 80,000 workers who marched up Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where a number of policemen and protesters were killed in the street. The end of the riot resulted in the Knights or Labor losing thousands of members.
The History Channel stated that the very first Labor Day parade took place in September 1882 where 10,000 workers refused to go to work, and instead marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City. Many states then passed legislation recognizing the first Monday in September as a worker’s industry holiday, but the US congress did not legalize the day as a federal holiday until 12 years later.