The Secret History of Father’s Day

The first Father’s Day celebration was held on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington. But did you know that Father’s Day didn’t become a national holiday until 1972?

The idea of celebrating Father’s Day came about shortly after the induction of Mother’s Day as a commercial holiday in 1908 (Mother’s Day didn’t actually become a national holiday until President Woodrow Wilson legislated it in 1914). In 1909, Spokane, Washington resident Sonora Smart Dodd tried to establish an equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. After generating sufficient grassroots support among local clergy, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials, Dodd’s resolution came to pass – and on July 19, 1910, Spokane became the seat of the first statewide Father’s Day celebration.

Other states caught on, and by 1916 President Wilson was honoring the day with an elaborate flag ceremony. Still, no proclamation had been made to observe Father’s Day as a national holiday. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father’s Day, but was rebuffed by a significant portion of the American public – mostly male – who viewed the holiday as a commercial excuse for shopkeepers to sell more gifts.

The late 1920s saw the rise of a movement to replace both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with a single holiday called Parents’ Day. Every Mother’s Day into the early 1930s, pro-Parents’ Day activists would congregate in New York City’s Central Park to demonstrate their support for a de-commercialized holiday that would honor and respect both parents at the same time. But their efforts were eventually quelled by the onset of the Depression, which prompted retail chains and advertisers to promote Father’s Day as an excuse to sell men’s products – such as hats, ties, smoking implements, and sporting goods – six months after the winter holidays.

At the start of World War II, advertisers touted Father’s Day as a way to support and honor American troops – many of whom were dads. This patriotic approach proved to be popular, and by the end of the war, Father’s Day was celebrated across the country – despite still not being recognized as a federal holiday.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation declaring Father’s Day a national holiday at last. This was in the middle of his re-election campaign, and may well have been a ploy to boost his popularity at the polls. In 2015, the National Retail Federation reported Father’s Day spending was estimated to reach $12.7 billion.

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