16 Vintage Photos of Labor Day Celebrations

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

While most of us now celebrate Labor Day with barbecues or end-of-summer vacations, the holiday was originally much more focused on labor unions and was meant to celebrate the economic and social contribution of blue collar workers. In fact, the holiday was only made a federal celebration in 1894 in an attempt to placate labor unions after the famous Pullman Strike, which resulted in 30 deaths. This labor-centric meaning is particularly apparent when looking at vintage photos of the holiday like these, which are courtesy of the Library of Congress.

1. Parades Galore

Original documents aiming to establish Labor Day as a holiday called for a parade that would be followed by family-friendly festivities. As a result, parades were a huge part of the celebrations during the early days of the holiday as you can see in the top picture from the Fireman’s Labor Day Parade from 1929.

2. Unions Uniting

Not only were the unions a big part of the reason the holiday was created, but they continued to be a big part of the celebrations for years to come. In fact, many of the early parades were made up largely of groups of different local union workers, like the Women’s Auxiliary Typographical Union pictured here in 1909.

3. Fundraising for Strikers

The parades also provided unions with a good opportunity to raise funds to support striking union workers, like this man was doing on behalf of the Furriers Union in 1915.

4. Fun and Games

Of course, like modern parades, there were still plenty of fun sources of entertainment for kids. These four clowns, for example, were happy to amuse the crowd in the Silverton, Colorado parade of 1940.

5. The Band Marches On

Similarly, even a small silver mining town like Silverton, Colorado had a high school marching band present to bring a little marching music to the parade, as you can see in this 1940 image by Russell Lee.

6. The Float with the Most

As the years wore on, the floats got more elaborate and the parades started attracting larger crowds as well. Here’s a group that was fortunate enough to have balcony seating for the 1940 Labor Day Parade in Du Bois, Pennsylvania, as photographed by Jack Delano.

7. Patriots Unite

When WWII rolled around, the unions continued to provide floats for the parades, but they focused their float themes on patriotism and winning the war. In 1942, photographer Arthur S. Siegel captured the Detroit Local 600 of the Congress of Industrial Organizations showing their electrical workers electrocuting Hitler.

8. Outhouse HQ

Even the clowns at that 1942 Detroit parade had it out for Hitler, showing his headquarters were holed up inside of an outhouse all while promoting bonds to support the war effort. Photograph by Arthur S. Siegel.

9. Raise the Flag

Even in the midst of electrocutions and outhouses though, the Detroit parade still made a place for this adorable little girl with her American flag to show her support for the war effort and Labor Day festivities. Image taken in 1942 by Arthur S. Siegel.

10. Contests for Kids

As for those family-friendly festivities, well, those varied from location to location, although classic picnic games like potato sack races seemed to be pretty popular across the board. I don’t know who won this particular race shot in 1940 by Russell Lee in Ridgeway, Colorado, but I’d put my money on the big kid on the left.

11. Kiddie Rides

Depending on the size of the festival, some places would even put up fun carnival rides for the kids. I particularly love this picture of a tiny miner from Silverton, Colorado, taken by Russell Lee in 1940.

12. Family Togetherness

The best part of the Labor Day past and present might just be families getting to spend a nice weekend together, like these miners enjoying the holiday with their youngsters back in 1942. Photo taken in Silverton, Colorado by Russell Lee.

13. Friendly Competition

Not everyone put away their tools on Labor Day. In fact, the miners of Silverton actually competed to show off who was the best driller. Here’s one participant hand drilling on a massive boulder, as photographed by Russell Lee.

14. Racing the Day Away

Of course, while many people enjoyed watching contests on Labor Day, most didn’t want to work on the holiday. That’s why going to the race track was so popular in Benning, Maryland back in 1916. Labor Day races like this one included both motorcycle and car events.

15. Barbecue for All

While many modern Labor Day celebrations revolve around backyard barbecues, they used to be much larger, community affairs. In fact, this 1940 celebration in Ridgeway, Colorado required dozens of volunteers to prep, cut and serve the massive, free barbecue that fed practically everyone in the whole town. Photo by Russell Lee.

16. Waiting for a Feast

Despite the rain, everyone at the 1940 Ridgeway barbecue seemed grateful to wait in line for such a delicious Labor Day treat, presumably only furthering that feeling of community. Image taken by Russell Lee.

This post originally appeared last year.

10 Saccharine Facts About Sweetest Day

Peter Purdy, BIPs/Getty Images
Peter Purdy, BIPs/Getty Images

Unless you live in certain parts of the United States, there's a good chance you've never heard of Sweetest Day. For others, however, it's a century-old celebration. Here's what you need to know about the semi-obscure holiday.

1. THERE'S A REASON IT'S THE THIRD SATURDAY IN OCTOBER.

This image of newsboy Emil Frick was first published in The Cleveland Press on October 8, 1921.
This image of newsboy Emil Frick was first published in The Cleveland Press on October 8, 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When the holiday was founded in 1916, trick-or-treating hadn't become popular yet, so though Halloween existed, there was no autumn boost to the candy industry like there is now. That's why the National Confectioners Association invented a mid-season marketing gimmick to help increase sales before Christmas. Naturally, they tried to spin it otherwise, writing that the spirit of the day should be "interpreted as a spirit of good will, appreciation, and good fellowship."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS "CANDY DAY."

A Sweetest Day advertisement first published in The Cleveland Press on October 6, 1921.
A Sweetest Day advertisement first published in The Cleveland Press on October 6, 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Though the National Confectioners Association wanted the celebration to appear as if it was about more than just candy sales, the name they gave the holiday belied their efforts. It didn't become the slightly more subtle "Sweetest Day" until the 1920s.

3. HERBERT HOOVER WAS NOT PLEASED ABOUT IT.

In 1918, Herbert Hoover was the director of the United States Food Administration, and was closely associated with relief efforts Europe. Here, he is standing with his wife and daughter by a poster giving thanks to America for its help in providing food.
In 1918, Herbert Hoover was the director of the United States Food Administration, and was closely associated with relief efforts Europe. Here, he is standing with his wife and daughter by a poster giving thanks to America for its help in providing food.
A. R. Coster, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Of course the year the holiday was founded, 1916, was smack in the middle of World War I. By the time the second annual day rolled around, Herbert Hoover, who was then the director of the U.S. Food Administration, reminded the National Confectioners Association that their consumerism creation wasn't exactly in the best interests of America's wartime efforts to conserve sugar.

In 1917, an industry bulletin called The International Confectioner noted, "As Mr. Hoover had requested everyone, everywhere, to cut down as much as possible on their usings of sugar, he considered that Candy Day was an effort on the part of our industry in the very opposite direction."

4. CELEBRITIES AND CAUSE MARKETING FINALLY DID THE TRICK.

Actress Theda Bara giving candy to orphans in 1921.
Actress Theda Bara giving candy to orphans in 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once it was safe to increase sugar production again, marketing efforts kicked back into high gear. In 1921, Cleveland Candy Day organizers got the bright idea to tie the promotion into charity, giving sweets to orphanages and the elderly. Actresses Theda Bara and Ann Pennington went to Cleveland to help distribute thousands of boxes of candy, which helped further popularize the celebration.

5. THERE'S ANOTHER TALE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THE HOLIDAY.

A 1922 ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
A 1922 ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

According to Hallmark, Sweetest Day came about because a candy company employee named Herbert Kingston simply wanted to spread joy to others and "bring happiness to the lives of those who often were forgotten." But The Atlantic calls this happy little story a complete fabrication, so take it with a grain of salt.

6. HALLMARK WAS LATE TO THE PARTY.

A man mailing a letter in 1960s New York.
Keystone, Getty Images

Though it's often referred to as a "Hallmark Holiday," Hallmark didn't actually get in on those sweet Sweetest Day profits until the 1960s—nearly 50 years after it was founded.

7. MOST SWEETEST DAY CARDS ARE ROMANTICALLY INCLINED.

This front-page Sweetest Day cartoon was published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 8, 1921.
This front-page Sweetest Day cartoon was published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 8, 1921.
Digital scan courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library Microform Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Despite the fact that Sweetest Day started as a way to hawk candy to the downtrodden, it's now just another Valentine's Day for many people. Hallmark makes more than 70 Sweetest Day cards—and 80 percent of them are romantic.

8. FOR SOME, IT'S MORE POPULAR THAN MOTHER'S DAY.

A little boy gives his mother some flowers
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

According to Retail Confectioners International, some retailers say their sales for Sweetest Day are better than their sales for Mother's Day. (Sorry, mom.)

9. THESE DAYS, SWEETEST DAY ISN'T JUST ABOUT THE CANDY.

Two women laughing together.
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Though those commemorating the holiday can certainly buy candy, that's just one of the ways people can express their appreciation for anyone who might not otherwise have a special day (a favorite aunt, a next-door neighbor, the pet sitter). Various ways to celebrate Sweetest Day include flowers, cards, gifts, or simply just doing good deeds for others.

10. NEVER HEARD OF SWEETEST DAY? YOU'RE NOT ALONE.

An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream in the 1920s.
Elizabeth R. Hibbs, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sweetest Day never gained as much ground nationally as it did in the Great Lakes region. The main states that celebrate sweetness on the third Saturday of October are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, though it has also spread to areas of New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, and California. The biggest Sweetest Day cities are Detroit, Buffalo, and of course, Cleveland.

This story first ran in 2016.

Today is National Necktie Day in Croatia—Birthplace of the Necktie

Srdjan Stevanovic, Getty Images
Srdjan Stevanovic, Getty Images

If you're wearing a necktie to work today, you can thank (or blame) the Croatians for this stylish invention. The necktie's predecessor, a short knotted garment called the cravat, is a source of pride in this Western Balkan nation—so much so that they celebrate Cravat Day each year on October 18.

It's unclear when exactly the necktie was invented, but Croatian soldiers wore red cravats as part of their uniform during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). According to The Atlantic, Croatian mercenaries carried it to Western Europe that same century, and the French borrowed the idea and dubbed it the cravate. It became even more stylish when Louis XIV of France started wearing a lace cravat in 1646 at the tender age of 7, according to The Dubrovnik Times. The English eventually helped spread the accessory around the world, and it morphed into the elongated form we're most familiar with today.

In 1997, a nonprofit organization called the Academia Cravatica was founded to promote the cravat as a symbol of Croatian ingenuity. "By spreading the truth about the cravat, we improve Croatia's image in the international public," the organization states. "The fact that Croats invented the Cravat makes us proud to be Croats." (According to Time Out, Croatia also invented the first MP3 player, the zeppelin, the parachute, and fingerprint identification.)

The cravat is also tied up with national identity. The words Croat and cravat are etymologically linked, and were once different spellings of the same word. One sample sentence by David Hume in 1752 reads, "The troops are filled with Cravates and Tartars, Hussars, and Cossacs."

The holiday isn't normally a big to-do, but the county's capital city, Zagreb, occasionally gets pretty festive. In 2003, when the holiday first debuted in Croatia, the Academia Cravatica wrapped an oversized red necktie around Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheater. It took two years to prepare and five days to install—and at 2650 feet long, it ended up being the largest necktie in the world, as recognized by Guinness World Records.

Cravat Day was formally declared a holiday by Croatian Parliament in 2008, and it's been a hallmark of Croatian culture ever since. A few events were planned in Zagreb today, including a march featuring the "city's famous Cravat Regiment." So if you happen to be in the Croatian capital, now you know why more than 50 historic statues are looking dapper in their red cravats.

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