The origin of President’s Day

Welcome to the Monday, February 21, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

It’s President’s Day—here’s a brief history

Today is President’s Day—an annual federal holiday that falls on the third Monday of February. Here’s a quick history about the holiday—and the presidency. 

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The history of President’s Day

  • President’s Day always falls between George Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22) and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12). The holiday began informally on Feb. 22, 1800, a year after Washingon died. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed a law adding Washington’s birthday to the country’s four bank holidays, although the law only applied to federal employees in Washington D.C.
  • Officially, the federal government recognizes the holiday as “Washington’s Birthday.” According to the Office of Personnel Management, “This holiday is designated as ‘Washington’s Birthday’ in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.” In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to give workers more three-day weekends—the law refers to “Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February.”
  • How did Americans begin referring to Washington’s Birthday as “President’s Day”? According to the National Archives—because of advertisers: “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.”
  • As President’s Day became the recognized name of the holiday in popular culture, state and local governments followed suit. According to, by the early 2000s, “as many as half the 50 states had changed the holiday’s name to Presidents’ Day on their calendars.” 
  • Although most states officially recognize the third Monday of February as President’s Day, not all do. In Utah, the holiday is known as “Washington and Lincoln Day.” Some states don’t observe President’s Day in February. In Georgia and Indiana, for example, Washington’s birthday is observed on…Christmas Eve. New Mexico observes President’s Day on the day after Thanksgiving. And in Wisconsin, President’s Day isn’t a state holiday at all.  

In honor of Presidents’ Day, here’s some presidential trivia. 

  • The first presidential inauguration occurred on April 30, 1789.
  • According to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, if the President is removed, dies, resigns, or cannot continue serving, the vice president is first in line to assume the office, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. If the Speaker of the House cannot assume the office, the responsibility falls to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The president pro tempore was not part of the line of presidential succession between 1886 and 1947. See the full line of succession here
  • Speaking of federal holidays, three presidents died on Independence Day—John Adams (July 4, 1826), Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1826), and James Monroe (July 4, 1831).
  • Since 1901, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has overseen and organized presidential inaugural ceremonies. 
  • Until 1901, the White House was commonly known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” or the “Executive Mansion.” That changed in 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt directed Secretary of State John Hay to “change the headings, or date lines, of all official papers and documents requiring his signature, from ‘Executive Mansion’ to ‘White House.”

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