A history lesson: Why Yoopers celebrate Labor Day

The History of Labor Day in America Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor

No one knows hard work like a ‪Yooper‬, which is why today’s holiday is especially important in the Upper Peninsula. We have a rich history of miners, lumberers, and other hard labored workers that make Labor Day weekend much more than just a three day weekend.

Here’s some historical context of why the Upper Peninsula celebrates ‪Labor Day‬…

“Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country,” said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Coincidentally, it was on this day in 1895 that the meaning of Labor Day engraved itself into U.P. culture with a tragedy of huge historical significance. Paying tribute to Upper Peninsula miners who impacted the socioeconomic environment of the U.P., and those who toiled generations before us, is why Yoopers hold today’s holiday in such high regard.

It happened on this day in 1895. The final death toll climbed to thirty, the most lives lost in a signal mining accident during the copper boom. The U.P.’s history of miners, lumberers, and other hard labored workers make ‪#‎LaborDay‬ weekend much more than just a three day weekend. Paying tribute to those who toiled before us, this why the U.P. celebrates Labor Day.

Posted by ABC10 & CW5 UP on Monday, September 7, 2015

On this day in 1895, a fire was quietly sparked in the Osceola Mine Number 3 just south of Calumet. It wasn’t too unusual in those days for fires to ignite in a mine shaft and most were quickly put out but there in the Osceola the design of the shaft and the abundance of timbers became a deadly combination as the fire quickly spread.

Smoke and fumes overflowed into shaft four and five, hampering desperate efforts to evacuate some 200 miners that work underground. Most of the casualties were due to smoke and gas inhalation including several boys on the crew.

The final death toll climbed to thirty, the most lives lost in a signal mining accident during the copper boom.


Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day.

The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit.

By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday – a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day.

Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom.