1925 Labor Day Parade: A Closer Look

by Arnold Woods

Another Labor Day is upon us. Labor Day celebrates the contributions of American workers to our country’s development. President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894. In California, Governor Henry Markham declared that the first Monday in September would be the Labor Day legal holiday in 1892. Even before that, various labor organizations had been celebrating Labor Day with parties and parades in San Francisco.
 

Marching band on Market Street near Front Street for Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925.Marching band on Market Street near Front Street for Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925. (wnp36.03250; DPW Horace Chaffee – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
 

Big plans were made for Labor Day 1925, which fell on September 7th, just two days before Admission Day. 1925 was the 75th or Diamond anniversary of California’s admission to the Union. The Diamond Jubilee celebration began during the weekend before Labor Day. Out on the Bay, yachts, rowers, swimmers and divers gave exhibitions.1 At the Tanforan Racetrack, auto races were featured which included famed driver Barney Oldfield. There was even a fashion show and ballet at the Civic Auditorium. Several naval submarines were docked at Pier 30 and, for the first time ever, the public was allowed to board them during that week’s festivities.
 

Labor Day parade marchers on Market Street near Mason, September 7, 1925.Labor Day parade marchers on Market Street near Mason, September 7, 1925. (wnp36.03246; DPW Horace Chaffee – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
 

At 10:00 a.m. on Labor Day, a parade started at the east end of Market Street and headed for the Civic Center. People worked for weeks on 42 floats that depicted various labor activities. As was typical of newspaper flowery prose at the time, the Chronicle stated that it was “expected that never before in the history of California will the dignity and achievement of labor have been pictured so elaborately as in this parade.2” Presiding over the parade as Grand Marshall was William P. Stanton, the president of the San Francisco Labor Council.
 

Waitress Union marchers in Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925.Waitress Union marchers in Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925. (wnp5.50586; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
 

The parade had approximately 60,000 marchers and virtually every union and industry in the City was represented.3 Among them were waitresses, hotel employees, carpenters, engineers, iron workers, bridge builders, federal employees, garment workers, meat packers, milk drivers, printers, and teamsters. The pastry chefs’ float distributed cookies to some of the hundreds of thousands of spectators.
 

Postcard view of Labor Day Parade float at Civic Center, September 7, 1925.Postcard view of Labor Day Parade float at Civic Center, September 7, 1925. (wnp26.2077; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
 

At the head of the march was a float showing various types of workers holding up a model of the world with a banner stating “Labor Creates and Sustains Civilization.” The painters’ float had a giant paint bucket at one end and children dressed in various colors representing the various colors of a palette. Steel workers drove real rivets into a large girder on their float. Spectators found the pipefitters’ float amusing as it depicted both an 1850 kitchen and a 1925 kitchen to demonstrate how far technology had advanced in 75 years. One of the most elaborate floats depicted Rodin’s “The Thinker” gazing at a model of the state of California. The float’s motto stated: “Think: The Wealth of California Was Created by Labor.”
 

Civic Center bleachers for Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925.Civic Center bleachers for Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925. (wnp36.03248; DPW Horace Chaffee – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
 

A crowd favorite was the ferry boatmen’s float from which a piano player and R.T. Hunter, known as the “Caruso of the ferries,” would stop along the parade route and belt out tunes for the crowd.4 When the marchers and floats reached the Civic Center, they paraded in front of reviewing stands on both sides of Polk Street in front of City Hall.
 

Polk Street reviewing stand at Civic Center for Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925.Polk Street reviewing stand at Civic Center for Labor Day Parade, September 7, 1925. (wnp36.03247; DPW Horace Chaffee – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
 

After the parade, the celebration continued at the Civic Auditorium that night. The festivities included music and dancing and the awarding of prizes for the parade floats. When it was over, San Francisco did not rest for long. Tuesday, September 8, 1925 featured a military parade, followed by the Admission Day Historical parade on Wednesday, September 9, 1925. It was three days of parades and festivities the likes of which had not been seen before in San Francisco.
 

Notes:

1. “Builders Of World, Motto Of Artisans,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 1925, p. 1.

2. “Strength of Labor to be Shown in Big Parade Today,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 1925, p. 2.

3. “Labor Turns Out For Fete; 60,000 March,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 1925, p. 1.

4. “High Lights of Colorful Parade,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 1925, p. 2.