On Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, the 120th celebration of Labor Day as a federal holiday will take place, but, according to the Department of Labor, the history of recognizing what has been described as a day to honor people "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold" dates back to at least 1882 when the Central Labor Union of New York adopted a Labor Day proposal.
According to a Congressional Research Service report on federal holidays, Labor Day was "designed to honor American labor and foster the feeling of brotherhood among the different crafts."
In a May 15, 1894 House Committee on Labor report that supported the creation of Labor Day, the following reasoning was used :
"The use of national holidays is to emphasize some great event or principle in the minds of the people by giving them a day of rest and recreation, a day of enjoyment, in commemoration of it. By making one day in each year a public holiday for the benefit of workingmen the equality and dignity of labor is emphasized. Nothing is more important to the public [body politic] than that the nobility of labor be maintained. So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as a useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen."
The committee hoped that the holiday would lead to both respect among the different crafts — most of which, at the time, had strong labor unions — and a desire for each craft to surpass the achievements of the others. This would, in turn, build up the country.
In short, Congress hoped to use the holiday to show the individual workingman — who was not what the report labeled a "farmer, manufacturer or professional " — that he could hold his head up and know that his work made him the equal of persons whose work "can be continued on holidays as well as on other days if they so desire it."
Many federal holidays now serve as little more than an extra day of rest for those fortunate enough to have the day off, but all had a purpose or, as the Committee on Labor said, a "principle" worthy of remembering.