Laborers in Madison County History

Non-indigenous settlement of Madison County began with homesteaders who survived by subsistence farming. Developers also came to the area, attracted by coal and clay resources. Subsequent generations and new immigrants worked as coal miners and in the brick industry. Towns formed with taverns and markets; manufacturing and service sectors flourished. Madison County had become home for a rich variety of laborers.

In 1894, Congress designated the first Monday in September a national holiday to celebrate American laborers. Towns usually held a parade of union workers followed by a picnic for laborers and their families. Madison County was no different. The itinerary below describes Edwardsville’s Labor Day festivities in 1912, the town’s centennial year:

9:00 a.m. — The Edwardsville Concert Band started things off on the court house square.

10:00 a.m. — After the concert, the band led 600 union workers in a three-quarter-mile parade through downtown. Unions for retail clerks, coal miners, bricklayers, butchers, carpenters, printers, electrical workers, painters, barbers, team drivers, cigar-makers, bartenders, and hod carriers all participated.

11:00 a.m. — Car shuttles and streetcars transported picnickers to Center Grove Park, south of downtown. People from Collinsville, Glen Carbon, Troy, and other area towns joined Edwardsvillians at the park to celebrate

(Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, September 3, 1912)

At the park, workers and their families ate barbecue and played games. The Star Orchestra of Edwardsville provided dance music until midnight. The “Fats” defeated the “Leans” in baseball, winning some meat and a keg of beer. The butchers won the prize for best parade presentation.

1912 Edwardsville Labor Day Parade Route

1912 Edwardsville Parade Route. Base map source: Standard Atlas of Madison County, Illinois. Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle & Co.

The seven sections of this online exhibition explore eleven of the trades represented in the 1912 parade described above. The featured artifacts, documents, and photographs held by the Madison County Historical Society illustrate stories of Madison County residents who earned their livelihoods around the time of the parade.

This online exhibition was written and designed by Mary Z. Rose, Assistant Curator at the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library. Please send your feedback and/or any questions about this exhibition to