As President Theodore Roosevelt once said: "It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things."
Text by E. Ray Walker
Photo editing by Nicole Werbeck, Sarah Leen, and Jessie Winder
Photograph by A.R. Moore, National Geographic Creative
Upward and Onward
Women use ladders to harvest the fruit in Basuto Valley, South Africa, in 1930.
The first Labor Day celebration included a street parade, meant to show "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations"—a tradition that has continued, according to the Department of Labor.
Photograph by Melville Chater, National Geographic Creative
Tethered by ropes to the rocky surface of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, workers in 1937 put the finishing touches on the face of Abraham Lincoln.
U.S. Senator James Henderson Kyle of South Dakota first introduced a bill to make Labor Day a legal holiday on the first Monday of September each year, which was approved on June 28, 1894, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Photograph by Charles D'Emery, National Geographic Creative
This was modern transportation in 1948 as workers carried an auto-laden raft across a stream in Nepal.
Other countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, France, Turkey, Mexico, and Canada honor Labor Day. In Canada, Labour Day is also held on the first Monday in September.
Photograph by Volkmar K. Wentzel, National Geographic Creative
Man of Steel
A worker scales a lattice of steel rods during construction of the Hanford Nuclear Plant in Richland, Washington, in 1980.
Photograph by Robert Madden, National Geographic Creative
Hot and Dangerous
A steelworker in protective attire braves the heat and flying sparks at a plant in Chicago in 1989.
Photograph by Lynn Johnson, National Geographic Creative
Keeping It Clean
Even wild animals need to make a good impression. Here, a worker dusts a display at an outdoor gear retail store in Sidney, Nebraska, in 1995.
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Creative
Putting in Time
Convicts pick cotton at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1997.
Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic Creative
A Hard Day’s Work
In Bihar, India, in 1999, women carry tubs of crushed rock on their heads.
Photograph by William Alnert Allard, National Geographic Creative
Home on the Range
Branding and castration chores are just a part of life at the Ken Rosman Ranch in Utica, Montana, as seen in 2006.
Photograph by Same Abell, National Geographic Creative
On Top of the World
Steelworkers walk along the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center in 2008, when it was the tallest building in China, at 1,614 feet (492 meters).
It's now the second tallest in China after Shanghai Tower, at 2,073 feet (632 meters).
Photograph by Fritz Hoffman, National Geographic Creative
Getting water is a daily challenge at the Nehru settlement camp near New Delhi, India, as seen in 2009.
One resident said: "If you throw money here, no one would have time to grab it. Water is more important to us."
Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
An orphaned African elephant gets to know her human "parent" at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011.
The baby elephant, whose mother was killed by a poacher, was taken to the orphanage, where she'll be taken care of until she's ready to go back into the wild.
Photograph by Brent Stirton/Reportage for National Geographic
Next Stop: Dinner Table
In 2012, an Egyptian worker in Lofoten, Norway, removes dried cod to be shipped to parts of Europe for use in soups and other dishes.
Photograph by Marcus Bleasdale/VII
Workers plant rice seedlings in the village of Ban Huay Wa in northeastern Thailand in 2012.
Photograph by James Nachtwey, National Geographic Creative