Today is a day to thank the hardworking men and women from the late 1800s for the much-improved working conditions we now enjoy.

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While having a day off work to celebrate the end of summer is a treat, you might be surprised at the real reasons why we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September each year.

The Labor Day holiday was created out of the labor movement in the late 19th century. The Industrial Revolution was at its height in the late 1800s. During this time, “the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living,” according to Even though many states prohibited it, children as young as 5 or 6 were often forced to worked in mills, factories and mines.

Because of the long hours, unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, and poor treatment by management, labor unions organized and workers began holding strikes and protest rallies. These events sometimes turned into dangerous riots, such as the Haymarket Riot. The violence during the Haymarket Riot included a bomb thrown at police and a total of eight deaths.

The idea of holding a labor holiday caught on as more and more people sought a peaceful way to protest for better working conditions and for eight-hour workdays. The holiday evolved over time, “but most historians emphasize one specific event in the development of today’s modern Labor Day,” says Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department of Labor historian. “That pivotal event was the parade of unions and a massive picnic that took place in New York City on September 5, 1882.”

Organizers were afraid that the New York celebration would be a failure. Many participants in the parade lost a day’s pay to participate and had to endure parade-watchers standing on sidewalks jeering at them. But by the end of the event, there were over 10,000 participants who “picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership.”

After this event in New York, other cities began holding a fall festival of parades and picnics to celebrate workers. Then some states, such as New York, New Jersey and Colorado, legalized the celebration of Labor Day and other states soon followed.

On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of September a legal national holiday, dedicated to celebrating the social and economic achievements of American workers.

Today, as you relax on your day off (possibly with a cold beer in your hand), don’t forget to take a moment of silence to thank the hardworking men and women from the late 1800s for their efforts to create the much-improved working conditions we now enjoy (and often take for granted).

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at