Way to spoil the party, National Archives. Looks like Presidents’ Day was developed by advertisers, just like every other holiday we hold near and dear. ALL HAIL THREE-DAY WEEKEND SALES.
There is no such thing as Presidents Day. Or President’s Day.
There is such a thing as Washington’s Birthday, and the National Archives Research Rooms in DC (but not the museum side) will be closed on Monday, February 19, in observance of this holiday.
“Before 1971, Washington’s Birthday was one of nine federal holidays celebrated on specific dates, which fell on different days of the week (the exception being Labor Day—the original Monday holiday). Then came the tinkering of the Ninetieth Congress in 1968. Determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays, Congress voted to shift three existing holidays to Mondays and expanded the number further by creating one new Monday holiday.
Washington’s Birthday was uprooted from its fixed February 22 date and transplanted to the third Monday in February, followed by Memorial Day being relocated from the last day in May to the last Monday in May.
When a new federal law was implemented in 1971, only two days separated Abraham Lincoln’s Friday birthday of February 12 from the Washington’s Birthday holiday that fell on February 15—the third Monday in February.
For advertisers, the Monday holiday change was the goose that laid the golden “promotional” egg. Using Labor Day marketing as a guide, three-day weekend sales were expanded to include the new Monday holidays. Once the “Uniform Monday Holiday Law” was implemented, it took just under a decade to build a head of national promotional sales steam.
Local advertisers morphed both “Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday” and “George Washington’s Birthday” into the sales sound bite “President’s Day,” expanding the traditional three-day sales to begin before Lincoln’s birth date and end after Washington’s February 22 birth. In some instances, advertisers promoted the sales campaign through the entire month of February. To the unsuspecting public, the term linking both presidential birthdays seemed to explain the repositioning of the holiday between two high-profile presidential birthdays.”
For the full story, go to http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/winter/gw-birthday-1.html
Image: S. 623, A bill to make the 22nd day of February George Washington’s Birthday, RG 46, Records of the United States Senate. Text via the Center for Legislative Archives.