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Why We Celebrate Labor Day And Other Facts About The Holiday You Might Not Know

Paul Sancya, AP
United Auto Workers members walk in the Labor Day parade' in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019.

Happy Labor Day weekend, America.

The very first Labor Day in the country was celebrated in 1882, and it became an official federal holiday in 1894. The holiday falls on the first Monday of September. The day typically celebrated with picnics and parades has more to it than that, though.

To mark the nation's 139th Labor Day, here's some trivia about the holiday you didn't know you needed:

It was celebrated in a few states first before it became a federal holiday

Labor activists first started recognizing Labor Day before states started to unofficially celebrate it. New York was the first state to introduce a bill to write the holiday into state legislation. Oregon, though, became the first state to pass it into law in 1887. Colorado, Massachusetts and New York soon followed.

The first Labor Day celebration had a lot of beer

The first major Labor Day parade was held in Manhattan near city hall in 1882. Police were worried about a riot breaking out, so there was a large police presence in the area. The problem, though, was that almost no one showed up at first to actually march. Awkward.

There was no music playing, and the few people present almost gave up before 200 people from the Jeweler's Union showed up and then things were on a roll. Around 20,000 people ended up marching that day.

Then came the party. Reports at the time said after the parade, there were "Lager beer kegs ... mounted in every conceivable place."

Some traditions, it seems, really stand the test of time.

In the Department of Labor, women led first

The Department of Labor, which was created after Labor Day already existed as a holiday, was the first department led by a woman: Frances Perkins. Perkins helped lead President Franklin Roosevelt's administration through changes in labor policyafter the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, in which 146 people died.

The Labor Department is also the agency that has had the most women secretaries, six in total.

The day off is great. But what exactly are we celebrating?

A lot. Do you enjoy not having to work weekends? The 40-hour work week? Having sick days and paid time off? You can thank labor leaders for that. Thousands of Americans have marched, protested and participated in strikes in order to create fairer, more equitable labor laws and workplaces – and still do today.

Some of the honorees in the labor movement have been recognized by the Department of Labor. You can read more about them here.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.