Labor Day, a Real Holiday and a Royal Good Time

Labor Day is a holiday of long standing in Nebraska. Our law was introduced in the twenty-first regular session of the state legislature by Senator Frank T. Ransom from Nebraska City. The bill passed without opposition and was approved by Governor John M. Thayer on March 29, 1889. Nebraska’s labor organizations made extensive plans for celebrating the state’s first official Labor Day in 1889, particularly in the state’s two principal cities.

Crowds lined the streets of Plattsmouth to view a Labor Day parade during the 1890s. NSHS RG3384.PH10-7

In Omaha the first Labor Day saw the opening of the Omaha Fair, a week-long exposition which included agricultural exhibits, horse races, and a daily balloon ascension. Ten thousand men took part in a gigantic parade from downtown to Hascall’s Park, where the assembled throng heard a stirring speech by U.S. Senator Charles H. Van Wyck. In Lincoln, the holiday was celebrated with equal enthusiasm. The principal speaker on the capital city program was State Senator Ransom. Also on the program was a young lawyer, William Jennings Bryan, who went on to become one of Nebraska’s most noted political figures.  

Gradually the celebration of Labor Day with worker parades and speeches evolved into the end-of-summer holiday we know today. The change was beginning to be evident by 1907 when on August 25 the Nebraska State Journal announced the upcoming celebration of Labor Day in Lincoln with a free picnic that included “no programe of set speeches, the committee in charge having concluded that the day should be a holiday in fact as well as in name. Neither will there be a parade. The labor day parade is falling into disfavor because of its expense and its doubtful value to the cause of unionism.”  

Labor Day at the Nebraska State Fair in 1957 provided a “royal good time” for fair goers. NSHS RG1793.PH37-20

Instead, said the Journal, the picnic was planned as the highlight of “a real holiday-a day devoted to having a royal good time,” an objective that reflects the present enjoyment of Labor Day. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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