The History of Father’s Day

HappyFathersDay resizedIn the United States, Father’s Day is celebrated in June. Many of us are aware of the sales that take place around that time, with discounts on gift items that will appeal to dads. What many people are unaware of is the history of Father’s Day. Here is the story behind Father’s Day, and some father related statistics to go along with it.

The very first Father’s Day was celebrated in the United States on July 5, 1908. It was celebrated at a West Virginia church with a sermon that was in memory of 362 men who died in explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company in Monongah, Virginia. It was intended to be a one-time commemoration.

One year later, in 1910, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for “male parents”. Sonora Smart Dodd lived in Spokane, Washington. She spoke with people at local churches, shops, the YMCA, and with government officials about her idea. She was successful, and the state of Washington celebrated the nation’s first Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.

That did not mean that Father’s Day had become a national celebration. It did gain in popularity, though. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson honored Fathers Day in a special way. He used a telegraph signal to unfurl a flag in Spokane, Washington, when he pressed a button in Washington D.C. I bet that got a lot of people’s attention!

Father’s Day still wasn’t an official holiday, though. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge urged the governments of individual states to officially observe Father’s Day. Not everyone was in favor of the holiday. At the time, there were many men who were against it.

The men who disliked the idea of Father’s Day had two reasons. One, they did not approve of the holiday’s “sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving”. They also hated the idea of a holiday that would be commercialized and require children and wives to purchase gifts for dear old dad. The men knew that it was they who would be paying for those gifts!

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, there was a movement that wanted to get rid of both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They wanted to replace them with one holiday – Parent’s Day. The idea was that both parents should be loved and respected together. Then, the Great Depression hit, and the idea got sidelined.

When World War II began, advertisers made an effort to identify Father’s Day as a way to honor American troops and to support the war effort. Naturally, the way to do that was to go out and purchase some gifts for dad. Father’s Day was catching on, but was not yet an official national holiday.

It wasn’t until 1972 that Father’s Day finally became a federal holiday. President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation that made Father’s Day official and a national holiday.

How many father’s are there in the United States today? According to the United States Census, there were an estimated 70.1 million dads across the United States in 2008. (That is the most recent year in which that data is available). In 2013, 17% of single parents were men.

Image by Jessicizer on Flickr.

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