UPDATED 7:24 AM PT – Monday, February 21, 2022
The nation observes President’s Day on February 20. The history of George Washington’s birthday, much like the nation, goes back hundreds of years and has a complex history.
The holiday has its roots in the late 1870s when Arkansas Sen. Steven Wallace Dorsey, a Republican, proposed making George Washington’s birthday a bank holiday. The bill was a popular one and was signed into law by then-President Rutherford B. Hayes on January 31 1879.
President’s Day became the first federal holiday to recognize an individual’s birth date, which was an honor held until Martin Luther King Jr. Day was instituted. It was also the only holiday other than Christmas to be celebrated by every single state.
However, the holiday, which fell on Washington’s birthday of February 22, did not remain untouched. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the uniform holiday bill into law, shifting the dates of many federal holidays to give Americans more three-day weekends over the year. Among them was Washington’s birthday, which was then and now observed on the third Monday in February.
— Rand Paul (@RandPaul) February 21, 2022
While a provision recognizing other presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson was overturned in Congress, the idea stuck and the holiday became informally known as President’s Day. The day is celebrated in different fashions by Americans from historical reenactments to car and mattress sales.
However, as President George W. Bush remarked on what would have been Washington’s 275th birthday, the legacy of the first U.S. president lasts even today.