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Vintage Views: Our ancestor’s Labor Day

  • The Brotherhood of Boiler Makers Lodge 245 from Concord on Labor Day, 1915, in front of the Wonalancet Club in Concord, just after marching in the Concord Labor Day Parade. Concord Public Library

Published: 8/25/2019 6:59:56 PM

Our ancestors celebrated many “firsts” in the year 1882 here in Concord as well as across the nation. The very first United States Ski Club was formed in Berlin, N.H., and the very first demonstration of pancake making was held at a department store in New York City. The famous P.T. Barnum purchased his first world famous elephant named Jumbo and America was captivated by the infamous bank robber Jesse James, especially when he was killed by Robert Ford that very same year. As our ancestors witnessed these events first hand, there was concern as an outcome of the success of the Industrial Revolution. Factories were built across the country and these factories needed to produce to make a profit. As a result of the widespread need for labor, we found our ancestors celebrating the very first Labor Day celebration in the United States on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City in accordance with plans made by the Central Labor Union. The support was strong with 10,000 labor workers marching in the streets in search of better working conditions for the people.

The arrival of the Industrial Revolution across America was welcomed by many people, work was available to the farmers, women and even children. There was no short supply of opportunities to earn a small wage in exchange for a day of work. There were mills in Concord and many more in Manchester. Concern arose when the need for labor far exceeded the supply of labor resulting in poor working conditions. Many people worked out of necessity with half the Manchester mills workforce being women. There were many deaths, long work hours and safety concerns. It was not uncommon to find a young child working at the mills for periods exceeding 12- to 16-hours per day. The people were alarmed and frustrated with little choice but to continue the cycle of work in the mills.

During the Civil War years, mills experienced a shortage of cotton from the South and turned their labor force to production of guns for the war effort. The Amoskeag Mills produced more than 25,000 guns annually to support the Union troops with signed government contracts. Soon after the war, there was a shift back to textiles as the raw materials became available once again, but the nagging labor issues continued.

As local towns across America continued to celebrate a “Labor Day” of their own there was continued interest in unions to protect the workers. The very first state-sponsored bill to establish an official Labor Day was introduced to the New York Legislature but the very first state to make Labor Day become law was Oregon on Feb. 21, 1887. This was followed closely with approvals in Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and finally New York. Within a few short years, the states of Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania also recognized Labor Day as a legal holiday in their respective states.

It was on June 28, 1894, that the United States Congress passed an act making the first Monday of each September a legal holiday called Labor Day.

The very first Labor Day parade was held in Concord, on Sept. 6, 1915. The Concord “Boiler Makers Lodge 245” helped organize the parade and celebration in support of the workers here in New Hampshire’s capital city. Lodge member James Berry said, “The people of Concord did not think there were enough union men to hold a parade for Labor Day.” Berry and his union men and women proved the people of Concord wrong with strong attendance as the people marched down Main Street and were recognized as the very first Labor Day parade. The Boiler Makers Lodge 245 even won second-place for their parade float and everyone in town soon celebrated on the State House lawn with food and iced refreshments.

As we celebrate the 125th anniversary of Labor Day this year, take a moment to remember our ancestors as they made their quest for laws that we enjoy to this very day, protecting the people and allowing for fair working conditions. Think back to the women and children working long hours in the mills out of necessity in poor working conditions and remember that very first Labor Day parade held in Concord back in 1915.

Our ancestors knew the meaning of hard labor and the benefits of better work conditions as they strived to earn a living. Though times have changed, the foundations laid by our ancestors are still providing for us to this very day.

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