When you think of Labor Day, it’s easy to think of door-busting sales, the end of summer, BBQs, and pool parties; However, the roots behind this federal holiday run much deeper than shopping and sunscreen.

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The Central Labor Union celebrated the very first Labor Day on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, with a parade in New York City. The holiday’s popularity spread throughout the nation until June 28, 1894 when Congress passed an act to recognize the first Monday of September as a federal holiday across the country. Before this, workers wishing to participate in the celebrations had to forfeit a day’s wages.

Labor Day was created as a way to pay tribute to hard working Americans. Today, it is used as an opportunity to honor all those who fought for labor reform in the U.S. Eight-hour work days, minimum wage, standard working conditions, and working age limits are all things we can thank the Labor Movement for. You can read more about the history of Labor Day here.

As a way to commemorate the American Labor Movement, we’ve compiled a short list of virtual galleries showcasing the movement’s history.

Found here is a virtual exhibition of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. This devastating industrial disaster in NYC killed 146 garment workers, mostly teenage immigrant girls, as a result of unsafe working conditions. The fire turned out to be the spark the movement needed. It shed light on the prevalently terrible sweat shop conditions and eventually led to legislation and reform in factories all across America. The eery photos captured the sadness and desperation of the movement’s humble beginnings.

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The Labor Movement Gallery features some of the movement’s visual propaganda. The illustrations were designed to inspire workers to organize and join labor unions, despite the efforts of their employers to deter them.

New York University’s Tamiment Library presents, The Real Rosie the Riveter, a showcase of over 150 WWII female workers and a major breakthrough in women’s labor rights.

Lastly, NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives presents,  An Eyewitness to Labor History: 1948-1975, a collection of Sam Reiss’ photography,  which documents the movement from WWII throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

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Category: Photography