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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Find out the real reason we're not supposed to wear white after Labor Day, how the holiday can increase your lifespan, and more.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

No One Is Sure Who Came up With the Idea First

The credit for the idea behind Labor Day goes to… well, we’re not sure.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some records suggest Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, first proposed a day celebrating workers. However, some historians believe the credit actually goes to a machinist named Matthew Maguire, who reportedly suggested the idea while he was secretary of the Central Labor Union.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

The First Labor Day Parade Was in New York City

On September 5, 1882, New York’s Central Labor Union held a parade to celebrate union work and show support for all unions. More than 10,000 union workers took unpaid time off work to march from City Hall, past Union Square and up to 42nd Street, Politico reports. These are some of the toughest jobs out there.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Here’s Where the ‘No White After Labor Day’ Rule Came From

Ever wonder why you’re not supposed to wear white after Labor Day? The tradition goes back to the end of the Civil War, when society was ruled by the wealthy wives of old-money elites.

As more new-money millionaires entered society, the jealous old regime invented a whole suite of arbitrary fashion rules that only those in the in-crowd would know. Anyone who showed up to an autumn dinner party in a white dress, for example, would be instantly outed as a nouveau riche newbie. That tradition of not wearing white past summer has since trickled down through fashion magazines and into mainstream culture, even for those of us whose ideal dinner party garb is sweatpants.

The good news is, most fashion experts agree there’s no need to follow this elitist rule today.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Oregon Was the First State to Recognize the Holiday

It made Labor Day a legal holiday on February 21, 1887. That same year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also legally adopted the holiday.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

President Grover Cleveland Made It a National Holiday

But his intentions behind this declaration weren’t so pure.

In 1894, nearly 4,000 factory employees of the Pullman Railway Company went on strike in response to reduced wages. Boycotts, riots and sabotage ensued. Thirty people were killed across the country, and the unrest caused an estimated $80 million in damages. President Cleveland eventually called in the Army to bust up the strikers.

Six days later, on June 28, he rushed legislation through Congress to declare Labor Day a national holiday as a conciliatory gesture.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Other Countries Celebrate a Different Labor Day

It’s called May Day, takes place on May 1, and like our Labor Day was established to celebrate workers’ rights. The holiday also coincides with International Workers’ Day. Unions around the world use this holiday as an opportunity to protest and hold demonstrations, some of which have turned violent.

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Man inspecting printing press

Canada Celebrated Labor Day Before the United States

The first Canadian Labor Day — or rather, Labour Day — was in 1872, ten years before the Americans caught on.

Printers in Toronto began lobbying their employers for a shorter work week. Their employers did nothing, so they began a strike on March 25, 1872. On April 14, 2,000 workers marched in solidarity of the strikers. By the time they reached their destination, the group had grown to 10,000, one-tenth of the city’s population. Check out some of the dirtiest jobs in the world.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Going to Amusement Parks Is Literally the Law

Many school districts around the country start classes before Labor Day. But in one state, such anti-delinquency is illegal.

In 1986, Virginia passed the Kings Dominion Law, an actual on-the-books statute that prohibits city and county schools from starting before Labor Day Weekend so families have one last chance to hit up popular theme parks like Busch Gardens and, yes, Kings Dominion. To answer your next question: Yes, there is an amusement park lobby, and yes, they may or may not have helped keep this law on the books by donating 324 free park tickets to lawmakers between 2001 and 2013.

So enjoy a roller coaster, Virginians. It’s the law.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

It’s the Official End of Hot Dog Season

During peak “hot dog season,” which spans Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans gorge themselves on roughly 818 hot dogs every second (or seven billion total). As summer barbecues fade into foliage walks, what foodstuff is fit to take up the mantle?

Many Americans start with “pumpkin spice” beverages. Despite pumpkin spice lattes not containing any actual pumpkin for their first decade on sale (and therefore no seasonal restrictions to serving them), coffee peddlers stand to make a killing in the next few months on their sweet, orange brew. In fall 2015, Starbucks made an estimated $100 million in revenue from pumpkin spice latte sales.

(Sorry, hot dogs. Until you can learn to flavor a latte, your time is limited.)

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor DayLeonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

The Three-Day Weekend May Make You Live Longer

We’re not just telling you what you want to hear (and your employer doesn’t). In an analysis of more than 600,000 American, European and Australian workers, scientific journal The Lancet found people who work more than 55 hours per week had a 33 percent increased risk of stroke than people who worked less than 40 hours a week.

People who work 40 hours or less every week also sleep better, pick fewer fights and are generally more productive at work, The Cut reports, than the estimated 40 percent of American workers who give 50-plus hours to the office. So slack off this weekend — it’s for your health. Spend this time upgrading your home with these Labor Day sales for DIYers.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

But It’s Also a Dangerous Holiday

Don’t let all that rest and relaxation dull your nerves. CBS News reports that Labor Day is the second-deadliest holiday for car accidents. Between 2011 and 2015, there were an average of 308 fatal car accidents on that holiday every year. (Memorial Day is the deadliest holiday for drivers with an average of 312 accidents per year.)

Labor Day is one of the final vacation-friendly holidays of the year, with many workers using up their vacay days by that weekend. More people may be driving, which means more people could be making dumb mistakes on the road. Please, please, please be safe and pay attention out there. Here are 10 things you should never do to your car.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

These Are the Hottest Labor Day Destinations

In 2019, Yelp released a list of the ten best places in the U.S. to visit for Labor Day Weekend. Top vacation spots included Lexington, Va.; Mammoth Lakes, Cal.; Fredericksburg, Tex; Tybee Island, Ga.; Miramar Beach, Fla.; and Lake George, N.Y.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

It’s a Reminder That “Bacon Is a Vegetable”

International Bacon Day falls on the Saturday before Labor Day every year. This unofficial (but recommended) celebration of meat is best celebrated via bacon-themed meals, desserts, and even drinks. The holiday’s motto: “Bacon is a vegetable.”

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Labor Sunday Is A Holiday Itself

While not as popular as Labor Day, some religious groups recognize the Sunday before Labor Day as Labor Sunday.

It was first organized in 1909 by the American Federation of Labor as a day to reflect on “the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Today, churches celebrate it as a day to lift up workers, reaffirm their commitment to improving job conditions and advocate for justice in the workforce.

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15 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Labor Day

Labor Day Celebrates a Lot of People

According to official government statistics, more than 143 million people make up the current United States labor force. Next, find out which of those workers have the highest-paying states for carpenters.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest