On September 5, 1882, the Central Labor Union of New York observed the first Labor Day. It became a federal holiday twelve years later, in the wake of the Pullman Strike of 1894. The conflict began in Pullman, IL when 3,000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in response to cut wages and long work days. It swiftly escalated to include over 250,000 workers from 27 states with the involvement of the American Railway Union, and it was broken up when President Grover Cleveland sent in United States Marshals and 12,000 Army troops. Several workers were killed during the military intervention, and over the course of the conflict 13 workers died and 57 were wounded. Within six days after the end of the strike, in an effort to reconcile with the labor movement, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was signed into law.
Through Opening History, you can read more about labor history by browsing Labor and Social Movements: A Collection of Digitized Books, where you’ll find Grover Cleveland’s 1913 account of the Pullman Strike alongside other records and reports documenting this historic event.