Did you know? Presidents’ Day never falls on the actual birthday of any American president. Four chief executives—George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan—were born in February, but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day, which is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month
Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.
Uniform Monday Holiday Act
The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s, when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Championed by Senator Robert McClory of Illinois, this law sought to shift the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays.
The proposed change was seen by many as a novel way to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers, and it was believed that ensuring holidays always fell on the same weekday would reduce employee absenteeism. While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill also had widespread support from both the private sector and labor unions and was seen as a surefire way to bolster retail sales.