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What Do You Know About Labor Day? And Where to Find Out

Biff Barnes

As you are working to get the coals just right for your Labor Day barbeque, take a moment to think about how we happen to be celebrating this day all across America.

Courtesy of Robert Raines under Creative Commons

The holiday’s origin goes back 119 years to 1894.

The American Railway Union had undertaken a drive to organize railroad workers nationwide, triggering strikes across the country. A strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in the Chicago area was the lynch pin of the effort. The administration of President Grover Cleveland, which was solidly anti-union, sent 12,000 troops to Chicago to break the strike. U.S. Marshals fired on protesters near the city, killing two, and the strike collapsed. But the results sparked a massive backlash against Cleveland’s heavy handed actions and only six days after the strike ended both houses of Congress had approved a bill proclaiming Labor Day a holiday and Cleveland had signed it hoping to quell the protests.

It’s a fascinating story. You can learn more about the Pullman Courtesy of under Creative Commonsstrike in an article titled Pullman Strike of 1894 in the California Historical Society’s journal California History. A post on the PBS NewsHour Blog The Origins of Labor Day  provides details about the holiday itself.

If you are a family historian think about the working men and women in previous generations of your family. A search of some of the many excellent collections of documents in libraries and archives will help you understand much more vividly how your ancestors lived.

Two outstanding sites to check for sources on the labor movement nationwide are:

There are also a variety of sources of state and local history. Some excellent examples include:

A quick Google search will help you locate a similar archive for your area.

You’ll find some amazing stories about some remarkable people, some of whom may have been your ancestors.