Labor Day: Its history and meaning

By CNN Staff

Published August 27, 2020

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What is it?

The patriotic holiday celebrated on the first Monday of September honors the American labor movement and workers who helped build the country and keep it strong.

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It should not be confused with Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, which are holidays that honor veterans and fallen service members.


Although the US honors workers in September, most countries celebrate them on May Day.


For many Americans, Labor Day also marks the end of summer. (Even though summer actually doesn't end until September 22.)


Many people celebrate with parades, visits to the beach and cookouts. But there's a lot more to Labor Day.

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What are the origins of Labor Day?

Scholars don’t agree on who had the idea for creating a holiday to honor workers. It was proposed in the early 1880s by either Peter McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Union or Matthew Maguire of the International Association of Machinists, according to the US Department of Labor.

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  • New York City held its first Labor Day parade on Sept. 5, 1882. It’s estimated that 10,000 workers participated.

  • In 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday.

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President Grover Cleveland and the US Congress made it a national holiday in 1894.

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As of July 2020, there were more than 159 million workers in the US' civilian labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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