Labor Day Sidebar: Why we got a day off

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Labor Day was adopted in September of 1894 to try and ameliorate nationwide hostility towards the administration of President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland had ordered U.S. Marshals and 12,000 federal troops into Chicago to break a wildcat strike by 3,000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Co., maker of the eponymous railroad sleeper cars.

The strike was ignited when, due to a sharp drop in orders for his cars, Pullman cut wages to his workers while demanding the same rents for his worker-occupied, company-owned housing. The strike lasted from mid-May to mid-July. At its peak the strike involved nearly 250,000 workers in 27 states, led by The American Railway Union, the nation’s first industry-wide union. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and 57 were wounded.

Subsequently, Cleveland lost his bid to be renominated by the Democratic Party in 1896 in large part because of his handling of the strike.

George Pullman was so feared and despised by labor elements of the railroad industry that, when he died in 1897, he was buried, at night, in a lead-lined coffin within an elaborately reinforced steel-and-concrete vault to prevent his body being exhumed and desecrated.

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