The Truth Behind America’s Labor Day Date

Since 1894, Americans have proudly recognized the efforts of the working class and the continued commitment to an eight-hour workday. Every year on the first Monday of September banks, government buildings, and businesses close in observance of Labor Day. But have you ever wondered why the U.S. celebrates Labor Day then, while virtually every other country observes International Workers' Day (AKA May Day) on May 1st? Did you even know May Day was a thing?

It All Started in Haymarket Square

On May 1, 1886, Chicago workers staged a walk-out and went on strike to demand an eight-hour workday. Shortly after, there was a peaceful protest in Haymarket Square that was infiltrated by police forces and quickly turned violent. It was at this very protest that the first ever, non-wartime, dynamite bomb was detonated, causing a panic that resulted in casualties on both sides. Martial Law was declared throughout the country and, in the end, eight labor leaders were arrested and tried — four of whom were sentenced to death.

Pro-Labor Sentiment Spreads

Three years later during a labor conference in Paris, an American Federation of Labor delegate urged the annual observation of Labor Day, to take place on May 1st in honor of the Haymarket Square strikers and martyrs, and to recognize the need of an eight-hour workday. This eventually spread throughout the world, and now May 1st is officially celebrated as International Workers’ Day (or May Day) in 66 countries, and unofficially celebrated in many more.

But what About the First Monday in September?

Few Americans are aware of May Day at all, instead celebrating Labor Day on the first Monday in September. But why would the country in which the observance originated recognize the wrong day? That particular decision was made by then-President Grover Cleveland in 1894. Rather than be associated with a day that might encourage anarchists and socialists, he sought to distance the U.S. from the origins of May Day. September was chosen as an alternate month of recognition simply because New York City unions had already marked the day for a celebration of all unions.

Poor May 1st! Did she ever get the recognition she deserved?

May 1st did eventually get recognized by the United States… and rebranded. In 1955, then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared May 1st be “Loyalty Day,” which would become “Law Day” three years later — a day to celebrate the role of law in the United States.

And there you have it! Now, at your Labor Day party this year, you can wow your friends and family with the origins of Labor Day and reasons why we don’t celebrate it on May 1st. If you want to wow them even more, celebrate in style with patriotic bunting flags from Independence Bunting.