KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — While Labor Day celebrations now feature cookouts and weekend trips, the original holiday began following the Industrial Revolution with labor workers fighting to unionize and for workers rights. Take a trip back in history and enjoy some pictures of Labor Days past.

In the late 1800s, working people began organizing to advocate for better working conditions according to Union Plus. The industrial revolution and the railroad construction of the 1870s increased the production possible through labor positions. People who worked in jobs that required physical labor, and employers took advantage of the lack of regulations around employment.

This meant that workers had no protection against discriminations or violence, could be required to work incredibly long hours, and child labor in dangerous conditions was prevalent.

One of the largest armies of unemployed men parade in Washington on bike, wagons and on foot, on the first Labor Day observance, Sept. 3, 1894. Shown are Jacob S. Coxey’s “Army of the Commonweal of Christ,” with Coxey in the buggy at right, wearing light suit. (AP Photo)

The Department of Labor states that the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The second Labor Day was held a year later by the Central Labor Union.

It is not certain who first suggested a holiday for labor workers, but the two most argued for founders are Peter J. McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners as well as a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, and Matthew Maguire, who was a mechanist that later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Mechanists according to the DOL. Maguire also served as the secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882.

The department of labor explains “According to the New Jersey Historical Society, after President Cleveland signed the law creating a national Labor Day, the Paterson Morning Call published an opinion piece stating that “the souvenir pen should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.” Both Maguire and McGuire attended the country’s first Labor Day parade in New York City that year.”

By 1894, 24 states had adopted the holiday the DOL says, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the law that made the the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday.


1900-1929 is described by the Library of Congress as the Progressive Era to the New Era. This period saw a great deal of prosperity following the Industrial Revolution. This is also the time when automobiles became more common in the United States, leading to the 1920s Labor Day races pictured below.

This period also includes the beginning of Women’s Suffrage in the Progressive Era, World War I, and a major influx of immigration.


Starting in 1929, the United States began the Great Depression, when stock values suddenly dropped. Between 1930 and 1940, the South West also experienced the Dust Bowl, which happened as the U.S. suffered a severe drought.

According to the LOC, President Franklin Roosevelt saw the country through the great depression with his New Deal. During this time, Arts and entertainment were important to keep the people’s spirits high despite the economic state.


In 1939 World War II began and lasted through 1945. The bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the conflict in 1941. The effects of the war in the U.S. left Labor Day celebrations seeming bleak. The LOC details several stressors of the war, including rationing, recycling and scrap metal drives, and those who were left at home participating in supporting the war efforts.


The 1950s saw the post-World War II boom and the beginning of the civil rights movement, according to Technology was continuing to progress, with the launching of the first American satellite, Explorer I. The economy was booming with new cars and suburban homes, but conflict underlined the prosperity. This is also the period of the Cold War and the Korean War.


The 1960s are well known for the progress made in Civil Rights as well as the Vietnam War and anti-war protests according to The fight for Civil Rights is well explained by the Library of Congress.

“Not all Americans participated equally in these expanding life opportunities and in the growing economic prosperity. The image and reality of overall economic prosperity–and the upward mobility it provided for many white Americans–was not lost on those who had largely been excluded from the full meaning of the American Dream, both before and after the war. As a consequence, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American women became more aggressive in trying to win their full freedoms and civil rights as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution during the postwar era.” the Library writes.


The 1970s can be described as an uncertain time in U.S. history, according to the Nixon Library. Americans were struggling with unemployment, inflation, and multiple energy crises while the nation was wealthy and powerful.

Ronald Regan’s Presidential Campaign in Michigan and New Jersey in 1980

With Regan’s announcement of his campaign for the presidency in late 1979, Labor Day 1980 saw his campaign in full swing before the election in November. Several pictures captured Regan’s campaign and celebration of the holiday in 1980.


The 1980s saw the greatest recession to that point since the Great Depression according to The time can be remembered often for its materialism and consumerism, but the period also saw the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle and global assertiveness from the United States.


Some sources, like the New York Times, refer to the 1990s as the best decade ever. encapsulates the 1990s as a decade of relative peace, prosperity, and also the creation of the internet.


The 2000s seem to kick off the decade that began much of the turmoil that is still affecting the U.S. now. In the same decade, the U.S. survived the September 11 attacks and elected its first black president, Barack Obama. According to a document published by Baylor, the period included the closing of secret prisons and detention camps, such as Guantanamo Bay, and the explosion of the Columbia shuttle as it re-entered the earth’s Atmosphere.


The most recent past decade saw increasing confusion and conflict, with events such as Edward Snowden’s NSA leak of the NSA surveillance, the raising of the debt ceiling, school shootings, and the Deepwater Horizon oil Spill. Despite these things, the American working class pressed on.

Through the years, labor worker positions have changed, but celebrations of the everyday labor worker have continued. Whether the celebration includes barbeques, beaches, or parades, remember the progress made of workers rights and how labor workers keep the U.S. going.