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7 Skillful Facts About the Labor Department

In recognition of the U.S. Department of Labor's 104th birthday, we’ve dug into the archives and found some fun facts.

1. Birthday Buddies: President William Howard Taft signed the act creating the Labor Department on March 4, 1913, in his final hours as president. We share our March 4 birthday with legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (born in 1888), the state of Vermont (joined the United States in 1791) and the U.S. Constitution (declared effective in 1789).

 President Taft addresses a crowd.
 President Taft addresses a crowd.  Source: Library of Congress


2. First Females: Our department holds the record for the most women in the Cabinet, with seven secretaries, including the first: Frances Perkins. Many of the secretaries who followed in her footsteps have blazed trails of their own. Elaine Chao and Hilda Solis were the Cabinet's first Asian-American and Hispanic women, respectively. Alexis Herman was the first African-American to serve as secretary of labor. And Elizabeth Dole was the first woman to lead two different departments for two different presidents (Labor and Transportation – a feat Secretary Chao is currently repeating).

Official portraits of the department’s seven female secretaries: Frances Perkins, 1933-1945, Ann McLaughlin, 1987-1989, Elizabeth Dole, 1989-1990, Lynn Morley Martin, 1991-1993, Alexis Herman, 1997-2001, Elaine Chao, 2001-2009 and Hilda Solis, 2009-2013.
Our female secretaries.


3. Secretary Sidelines: Being a Cabinet member is nothing to sneeze at, but for the 26 men and women who have served as secretary of labor, it’s just one of many impressive accomplishments. Our first secretary, William Wilson (1913-1921), wrote poetry in his spare time. Arthur Goldberg (1961-1962) went on to be both a Supreme Court justice and ambassador to the United Nations. And Frances Perkins (1933-1945) is a saint in the Episcopal church!

Secretary of Labor William Bauchop Wilson
Secretary of Labor William Bauchop Wilson.  Source: Library of Congress


4. Turnover Turbulence: Labor secretaries serve about four years on average. But in 1953, the department defied the average when three secretaries served in less than 10 months. In January, Truman appointee Maurice Tobin was replaced by Eisenhower pick Martin Durkin. After Durkin resigned in September, he was succeeded by James Mitchell.

Former secretary James Mitchell (left) joins former secretaries Frances Perkins, Arthur Goldberg and Willard Wirtz at a reception for the department's 50th Anniversary, March 4, 1963.
(L-R) Former secretaries James Mitchell, Frances Perkins, Arthur Goldberg and Willard Wirtz


5. Lambs at Labor: The department also holds a place in movie history. In 1991, the secretary's office in the department's main building in Washington, D.C., played the role of the FBI director's office in "The Silence of the Lambs." Actors Scott Glenn and Jodie Foster, who later picked up an Oscar for her role in the film, also posed for publicity stills outside the building.

A strip of film bearing the image of the Frances Perkins Building’s exterior.
The Frances Perkins building in Washington, D.C.


6. Number Nerdery: One of the department's agencies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is nearly 30 years older than the Labor Department. President Chester A. Arthur created the bureau in 1884, originally within the U.S. Department of the Interior. Here are some more Labor Department numbers in a nutshell:

  • 15,800 employees
  • 180+ laws enforced
  • 1-866-487-2365: our toll-free hotline
A strip of film bearing the image of the Frances Perkins Building’s exterior.
The Frances Perkins building in Washington, D.C.


7. PSA Power: Many celebrities have recorded public service announcements for the department over the years, including Carroll O’Connor, Colin Powell, the Flintstones, Johnny Cash, Mary Tyler Moore, Milton Berle, Montel Williams, R. Lee Ermey, Ricardo Montalban, Vincent Price, and Batgirl portrayer Yvonne Craig. Holy act of Congress, Batman!


A record cover in 1970s colors reads: Volume 2 Job Corps Radio Spots.
Job Corps gets groovy.


Can’t get enough Labor Department history? Learn more about our department here

Laura McGinnis works in the department's Office of Public Affairs. 



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It's good to know the history of Labor Department Laura. I salute our former President William Howard Taft for creating the Labor Department, since 1913. It's truly a celebration that needs to remember. There are many issues that needs to discuss on the side of many employees, through the years it's getting better and better.

-Goldbach Law Group