“A Monster Parade”: Davenport’s First Labor Day

“Attempts to count the procession were futile. There was so much to see and admire that all counts failed . . . It is estimated that there were close upon 5,000 men. It was a monster parade.”
Davenport Democrat, September 1, 1890

Although Labor Day was first sanctioned and promoted as a national holiday around 1885*, it took five years to reach the Quad-Cities. When it did, thousands of people from both sides of the Mississippi River, some of them from well outside Scott and Rock Island counties, flocked to Davenport, where Governor Horace Boies was the honored guest.

The morning parade took hours, with most of the 400 participating horse teams hauling floats and displays from area businesses and organizations. But according to the newspaper accounts, the real party was at Schuetzen Park. There were picnics and sporting games, orchestra music and other activities and programs to amuse those waiting for the speeches to begin at 2pm.

Mayor Ficke was introduced by the President of the Industrial Home Association, Dr. C. T. Lindley, and delivered a welcoming speech to great applause. Published verbatim by the Democrat, it began:

“Visitors and Friends of Labor:–I consider it a privilege to extend to you, in behalf of the city of Davenport, on the first observance of our new holiday, a most hearty welcome.

“Year after year, the people of this state have observed with patriotic fervor the day on which was born our nation’s independence. Year after year have they also observed in a fitting manner the day set apart to commemorate the noble services of the patriotic men who on southern battlefields laid down their lives that the union might live. And now when peace is with us; when this nation is in the zenith of its prosperity; when its wealth and greatness command the admiration of the world, there is added another bright star to its constellation of holidays, so that a grateful people may henceforth on that day commemorate honest, faithful labor’s services in building up that wealth and greatness.”

The rest of the Mayor’s oration was followed by a short musical interlude before the Governor gave a somewhat lengthier speech on labor unions that “was listened to by the closest attention by the great concourse of people.”**  Several more speeches followed—one was even in German, given by Henry Vollmer, Jr.

The crowd stayed on to enjoy a program of music supplied by area musicians and were still celebrating when the evening Democrat had to be put to press. “The demonstration,” as the article put it, was “the greatest of the kind seen in Davenport.”

So, how will you celebrate Labor Day?

* According to the World Book Encyclopedia, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882, which was a Tuesday. The holiday later spread to industrialized cities and towns throughout the country.

**Anyone who would like to read either speech may find them on the front page of the Democrat for September 4, 1890. This issue is included in our microfilmed newspaper archives.

(posted by Sarah)

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One Response to “A Monster Parade”: Davenport’s First Labor Day

  1. Mark Ridolfi says:

    Sarah: I wish I had room to excerpt these historical glimpses every day! Thanks very much for you and the library’s staff’s dedication to this wonderfully readable blog.

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