Labor Day marks not only the end of summer, but a momentous moment in our nation's history-- a moment that began at the Pullman Historic site in Chicago, Illinois.
Pullman was the nation's first planned industrial town, built around the Pullman Palace Car Company. Known for the development of the sleeping car, the company operated during the U.S. railroad boom from the late 1800's to the early 1900's.
It was here that the members of the American Railway Union (ARU) launched a wildcat strike in 1894, provoked by reductions in poverty wage that pushed them ever deeper into debt to George Pullman, the “benevolent” overlord of the company town, who owned the workers’ homes and the stores where they purchased their daily needs. ARU leader Eugene Debs initially opposed the strike. However, after seeing the abysmal conditions in the company town first hand, Debs resolved “to do everything in my power that was within law and within justice to right the wrongs of those employees."
After the union decided to support the strike, Pullman received a sweeping court injunction against the ARU. The next day President Cleveland ordered 20,000 federal troops to crush the strike and run the railways. Debs and ten other ARU leaders were arrested and convicted for conspiracy to halt the free flow of mail. The strike was violently crushed while Debs and the rest of the union leaders were sitting in jail. In the wake of the strike Congress honored the slain workers by designating Labor Day as a national holiday.