Read the Real, Bloody and Amazing Story of Labor Day
The year was 1880 — a time when the world thundered to the beat of steam engines pounding along newly laid rails, when black smoke, brass rivets and flaming night skies were contentedly looked upon as “signs of industry.” Having just emerged from the Civil War, America was busy rebuilding itself in steel and iron, its factories hammering raw ore into the industrial powerhouse that it would soon become.
Steel tycoons like Andrew Carnagie, bankers like J.P. Morgan and oil barons like J.D. Rockefeller were billed as “the men who built America.” And doubtless, many of them thought of themselves that way; just as many “we built that” tycoons do today. But these archetypal monopoly men, in their tailored suits and monocles, were understandably a bit loathe to swing a hammer themselves. For that, they needed men as hard as the steel they drove.
With so many killed during the previous decade’s bloody conflict, this growing nation was well short of the labor it needed to build. So the call went out, all across the world: “Come to America, and build your fortune!” And many did, particularly those from troubled areas. By 1886, the United States even had a statue at its front gate, gifted by the equally industrious French.
The immortal words on this “New Colossus’” tablet: “Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
But even then, immigrants knew that “breathing free” in America would come at a cost: Indentured servitude to “the men who built America,” or death. Likely both.
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