Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day, 1887

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, the first proposal for Labor Day outlined the form the observance and celebration of the holiday should take: "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."

New York was one of the first five states to recognize Labor Day by legislative enactment in 1887, and the Hudson Evening Register for Monday, September 5, 1887, reported on the Labor Day observances in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, and Oswego. Here's the account of the parade in New York City. 



General Observance of Labor Day in the
City of New York--Large and Imposing
Parade--The Union Flag Carried by all
Associations--Absence of Transparencies.

NEW YORK, SEPT. 5--This is Labor Day. The down-town districts wear a Sunday appearance, while from Houston street to the Harlem river is one mass of human beings moving in every direction. Men wearing different kinds of badges were hurrying here and there to join their comrades and swell the great parade. The bands of music popped out of this and that street playing inspiring airs and followed by large crowds of men, women and children. Though everything was bustle, everybody seemed happy.

The printing trades were the first to put in an organized appearance. They formed on the corner of Fourth street and the Bowery and numbered 7,000 men.

The line of march was taken up at Broadway and Thirteenth street, Grand Marshal Morrison being in command. A squad of police led the way down Broadway to Fourth street, and past the Washington monument to the plaza at Seventeenth street. The sight was a magnificent one. The sun shone out, and the different badges, insignia and banners carried by the men glistened in the bright sunlight. The marching was all that could be asked for, and as the men passed along their faces were pictures of happiness.

The windows and house-stoops and doors along the line of march were packed with onlookers who, at every turn, gave the sturdy sons of toil a three times three hearty greeting, to which the stars and stripes were dipped at the head of each body or organization.

It was a picturesque scene all along the line. The printing trades section attracted the most attention and was probably the neatest body in line as well as being the strongest. Benjamin Franklin's old printing press came in for the usual shore [sic] of attention. The brewers were mostly in wagons; the bakers wore white hats and shirts. In almost every section the tradesmen gave exhibitions of their skill.

One of the noticeable features was the absence of transparencies. Here and there, however, were some bearing such mottoes as "We rely on principles, not on men," or "Labor created capital, capital should not oppress labor."

The Socialists presented a transparency advising workingmen to buy the Leader and the Volks Zeitung, but banners of any kind aside from the American colors and the union banners were few and far between. The appearance of the paraders was excellent and no disorder of any kind attended the demonstration.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 men were in the line. All the down-town exchanges, banks and bankers and brokers offices were closed. Many business houses also closed up for the day. The courts and public departments were closed. Flags floated from many buildings through the city in honor of the day. After the procession disbanded the different trades went to Brommer's Park to spend the afternoon and evening.

Running beside the article about the first official Labor Day, on the front page of the Hudson Evening Register, was this advertisement for the coming week's attractions at the Hudson Opera House.

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