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.

Delight the Kids In Your Life by Calling Santa on Your Smart Home Device

iStock.com/adamkaz
iStock.com/adamkaz

If you’ve got a smart home device, Santa may be coming early this year. You and the true believers in your life can ring up St. Nick with both Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa devices. Here’s how.

If you live in a Google-equipped house, you can say “Hey Google, call Santa.” As Lifehacker reports, you’ll hear a dial tone, then the voice of an elf will come on, promising to transfer you to the big man himself. Santa will then tell you that he needs help with his holiday musical, asking you various questions about potential music choices. After you answer all the questions, he’ll incorporate your answers into a holiday song. (It also works with the Google Assistant on your phone, where you’ll get some graphics to go along with the experience.)

Alexa can help you and your favorite youngsters connect to Santa, too. You’ll need to enable Amazon’s kid-friendly FreeTime, according to Digital Trends, after which you can just say “Alexa, call Santa.” An elf or some other holiday helper will answer, then Alexa will ask for Santa. A pre-recorded exchange between the virtual assistant and Santa will ensue, because naturally, Santa’s too busy in mid-December to take all his calls.

If Christmas music is your jam, you can enable Alexa’s iHeartRadio skill and ask Alexa to “talk to Santa Claus,” who will then ask you a series of questions before coming up with a personalized holiday playlist for you.

As Christmas gets closer, you can track the whereabouts of your presents with either Google Home or Alexa. For Google Home, you just need to ask, “Hey Google, where’s Santa?” to get Santa Tracker updates. For Alexa, enable the NORAD Tracks Santa skill and say, “Alexa, ask NORAD Tracks Santa, where’s Santa?” to get an update from the North American Aerospace Defense Command on St. Nick’s location.

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER