COLUMBIA — Labor Day, the national holiday that's become synonymous with picnics, parties and vacations marking the end of the summer season, has a rich, storied and disputed history.
While you're tending to the grill — or to that cold beer — take some time to learn why you got the day off work and how the annual celebration has evolved over the years.
1. 132 years old: Labor Day began in 1882 when members of New York's Central Labor Union decided they needed a way to celebrate the American worker, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The idea quickly spread — after all, who doesn't want another excuse to party? Several industrial cities established ordinances proclaiming a day in early September as Labor Day, and in 1887 Oregon became the first state to pass a law making the holiday official. The U.S. Congress followed suit in 1894, passing an act that made the first Monday in September a legal federal holiday.
2. Credit where it's due: Two guys with homonymic surnames — Peter McGuire and Matthew Maguire — have been credited with starting Labor Day. Nobody has really settled the argument yet, the Labor Department says. McGuire was general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and helped establish the International Association of Machinists in New Jersey. Maguire, a machinist and member of the Central Labor Association who leaned toward strikes as a way to draw attention to the struggles of factory workers, has more recently been dubbed the father of the holiday.
3. Sputtering start: A parade was deemed the best way to celebrate the first Labor Day in New York, but it darn near didn't happen. Lots of folks chose not to participate because ... well ... they didn't want to lose a day's pay for taking off work. About an hour after the planned procession had gathered, spectators had lined the streets, but the few marchers there remained idle, the Labor Department account reports. When a couple hundred marchers from the Jewelers Union of Newark Two arrived with a band, the parade finally got underway. The band borrowed from "Patience," a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, playing "When I First Put this Uniform On."
4. Nothing unique: More than 80 countries around the world have holidays similar to Labor Day. Most mark the event on May 1 (May Day) and call it International Workers Day. China allows a three-day holiday.
5. A good day to start something: Waffle House opened its first restaurant on Labor Day in 1955 and didn't open a second store until 1961. It has since grown to more than 1,500 restaurants and says that over the past 59 years it has served 877.4 million waffles, 1.3 billion cups of coffee and 1.7 billion strips of bacon.
6. Speaking of food ...: The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says Labor Day marks the end of the peak hot dog season, which begins on Memorial Day. By the way, Americans reportedly eat about 7 billion hot dogs during that time, which the council says is 818 hot dogs per second. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association also reports that 55 percent of us call Labor Day a popular date to fire up the grill. That ranks third behind the Fourth of July (71 percent) and Memorial Day (57 percent).
7. Hitting the road: AAA reports that 35 million of us planned to travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday weekend. That's up a little more than 1 percent from 34.1 million last year, when gas prices were higher and the holiday came later in September. Meanwhile, the Missouri State Highway Patrol planned to saturate the highways with troopers, targeting specific 20-mile stretches of several interstate highways. Be careful out there.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.