Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, different groups of trade unionists chose a variety of days on which to celebrate labor. In the United States a September holiday called Labor Day was first proposed in the 1880s. An early history of the holiday dates the event’s origins to a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor convened in New York City in September 1882. In conjunction with this clandestine Knights assembly a public parade of various labor organizations was held on September 5 under the auspices of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York Secretary of the CLU Matthew Maguire is credited for first proposing that a national Labor Day holiday subsequently be held on the first Monday of each September in the aftermath of this successful public demonstration.
An alternative thesis is maintained that Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor put forward the first proposal in May 1882, after witnessing the annual labour festival held in Toronto, Canada.
In 1887 Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day. Thus by 1887 in North America, Labor Day was an established, official holiday.
Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894 in Chicago, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike. The date of May 1 (an ancient European holiday known as May Day) was an alternative date, celebrated then (and now) as International Workers’ Day, but President Cleveland was concerned that observance of Labor Day on May 1 would encourage Haymarket-style protests and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair on International Workers’ Day.
All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories have made Labor Day a statutory holiday.