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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Laboring on Labor Day

I spent the day yesterday picnicking and boating with my family at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland.

After a quick two and half hour drive from Greensburg, PA, we found ourselves back in “vacationland” with its roadside produce stands, ads for steamed blue grabs and bathers taking one last opportunity to frolic in the sun even as certain trees took on the reds, oranges and yellows of fall.

Watching a family prepare to go boating and another stringing a hammock between to tree trunks, I began to think about the approaching Labor Day Holiday and to ask myself, “When did industrial workers first see more leisure time than their predecessors?”

It turns out that during the period from 1894 to 1915 workers in the United States began to see decrease working hours and Saturday half-day holidays, giving them more free time for leisure activities. Vacations began to be regularly offered to workers, although they were usually unpaid ones. According to America at Leisure, “The monotony of specialized industrial work and the crowding of urban expansion also created a desire in the worker to have leisure time away from his or her job and away from the bustle of the city.”

People responded to this increased allowance of free time by attending a variety of leisure activities both within and away from the city. New resorts like Rock Springs Park quickly spread across the country. These amusement parks offered rides, fun houses, scenes from foreign life, and the latest technological breakthroughs, such as motion pictures.

One other factor which led to this boom in leisure time activities at the end of the 18th and early 19th century was the development of the light bulb. “The installation of electric lighting in the city streets, which made nighttime leisure activities less dangerous for both sexes.” And for all its critics today on conservative talk radio, it was actually the Progressive Movement which was another factor contributing to the increased value of leisure time for workers, as their health and well-being received more attention.

So, when you’re passing the mustard and the plate of sliced watermelon tomorrow, remember the workers of this nation who literally paved the way for your modern lifestyle. Without them, many of us would still be laboring on Labor Day.

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