Father’s Day is upon us, celebrated annually on the third Sunday in June. It has become a time for family gatherings, sales and gift-giving to dear old Dad. Today, more than 70 countries celebrate a special day dedicated to fathers. But when did it all begin?
The first documented date honoring fathers came on July 5, 1908. Grace Golden Clayton brought an idea to a minister at a Methodist church in Fairmont, West Virginia. As a result, the church offered a sermon memorializing 362 men killed in explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah the previous winter. However, this event was not repeated.
The holiday as we know it began the following year. In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd sat in church in Spokane, Washington, listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Her father, a Civil War veteran, had been left a widower during the birth of his sixth child, and he raised the children alone on their Washington farm. In his honor, Dodd felt there should be an equivalent holiday to celebrate the sacrifices fathers also make for their children.
Dodd began a campaign to garner support for her idea, involving local businesses, churches, government officials and the YMCA. She initially pushed for the holiday to be celebrated on June 5 the following year, as that was the anniversary of her father’s death.
Gaining the needed support, Dodd succeeded in getting the city to recognize the holiday. However, it took a bit longer than she hoped, and the holiday was pushed out to June 19, 1910 to give the city time to plan.
During that first Father’s Day sermon, young women had been given red roses to hand to their fathers. Large baskets of roses were passed around, and members were asked to pin a red rose to their lapels if their father was still living, white if he was deceased. After the service, Dodd and her infant son delivered roses and gifts to home-bound fathers.
The holiday gained traction, spreading across the country, and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson honored the day. Using telegraph signals, he unfurled a flag in Spokane by pressing a button in Washington D.C.
President Calvin Coolidge increased the national support in 1924, urging state governments to observe Father’s Day. According to the Library of Congress, Coolidge stated he supported the celebration “in order to establish closer relationships between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”
Unlike Mother’s Day, however, no official action was taken by Congress. During the 1920s and 1930s, pro-Parents’ Day groups gathered in Central Park in New York City. The events were an attempt to gain support for merging Mother’s Day and Father’s Day into one holiday.
As the Great Depression progressed, retailers pushed to keep the holidays separate, which gave two dates of high sales volume. At the end of the Depression, the National Retail Dry Goods Association pushed Father’s day as a “second Christmas” and offered a 16-page outline to merchants entitled “How to Sell More Goods for Father’s Day.”
That same year, New York City men’s clothing retailers formed the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day. They hosted a $5,000 contest for painting a Father’s Day poster. Two years later, the men’s clothing company F.R. Tripler & Co. joined the push. Men’s clothing retailers and manufacturers gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to promote Father’s Day by setting up window displays and using Father’s Day Stamps on their mail-outs.
Struggling retailers and advertisers promoted gifts for fathers, including socks, ties, golf clubs, pipes, tobacco and greeting cards. When World War II began, proponents argued Father’s day honored American troops and the taxes gained by the sales would support the war effort.
President Lyndon Johnson issued the first proclamation recognizing Father’s Day in 1966. He designated the third Sunday in June as the official day to Celebrate Father’s day through an executive order. However, it was another six years before it was fully recognized. During his 1972 campaign for re-election, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
As the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day would have hoped, Father’s Day has become a major retail sales holiday. The National Retail Foundation (NRF) states 2017 Father’s Day sales reached $15.5 Billion, and they expect $15.3 Billion in 2018. While this isn’t quite as much as Mother’s Day’s $23.1 Billion, it does show the country thinks Dad is a pretty special guy.
Today the holiday celebrates fathers, step-fathers and often father-figures who have touched our lives. From parties to small family gatherings and from expensive trips and gifts to simple hand-made cards, sons and daughters reach out to fathers across the country to give thanks for the special man who helped them through the lumps and bumps of childhood: Dad.