Who would guess Richard Nixon was the man to thank if you enjoy celebrating Father’s Day? It may not be too surprising to learn that getting national recognition for Father’s Day was more difficult than getting recognition for Mother’s Day. It’s not that people loved their father’s any less than their mothers, but florists, candy makers and card companies didn’t get behind the holiday as enthusiastically as they did for Mother’s Day, and many men scoffed at the attempt to “domesticate” their manliness with gift giving according to one historian.
The first public event to specifically honor fathers was a Sunday sermon on July, 1908 at a West Virginia church. The sermon was given in memory of 362 men who’d perished during a serious of explosions in a coal mine owned by the Fairmont Coal Company. The next year, a woman named Sonora Smart from Spokane, Washington was the first person to try and establish an annual celebration of fathers equivalent to Mother’s Day. Sonora was one of six children raised by a widower. She found support for her idea from local shopkeepers, churches and the YMCA. On June 19, 1910, Washington State celebrated the first official Father’s Day.
Popularity of the holiday spread slowly but gained speed after 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson brought attention to the day by overseeing a flag unfurling ceremony in its honor. More attention from the White House came in 1924 as President Calvin Coolidge encouraged state governments to observe Father’s Day.
The same movement that sought to end Mother’s Day in the in 1920s and 30s also wanted to end Father’s Day. Both events were viewed as overly commercial and a far cry from their original intent to honor parents with simple heart-felt sentiments and actions. An alternative idea was to join both celebrations together for “Parent’s Day,” but that idea never caught fire. The Great Depression, World War II, and struggling retailers all played a part in propping up Father’s Day as its own separate holiday. By the end of WWII, Father’s Day was celebrated nationwide, though it still wasn’t recognized as a federal holiday.
Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation that made Father’s Day a federal holiday. Today it’s estimated that Americans spend in excess of $1 billion on Father’s Day gifts each year.