Culture  /  Origin Story

Buying Your Dad a Gift Is Why Father's Day Exists

Buying a necktie for your dad is a stereotypical way to celebrate Father's Day, but it's in keeping with the holiday's history.
David Bartus/Pexels

It all started around the turn of the 20th century, when a variety of boosters started pushing for the idea of a national day to celebrate fathers. These early Father’s Day advocates included everyone from loving daughters to famed social reformers — and all of them owed much for the idea to another holiday, Mother’s Day.

In 1908, the first Mother’s Day was celebrated as the outgrowth of a decades-long attempt to get the holiday going by Anna Reeves Jarvis, a West Virginia woman who originally conceived of the holiday. A year later, Sonora Smart Dodd, a Spokane woman who had been raised by a single father, attended a church service in honor of the new holiday and began to petition for a version for fathers. She suggested that a holiday be founded around the time of her father’s June birthday. But her idea received little support at first.

And Dodd wasn’t alone. Famed settlement house founder and social reformer Jane Addams tried to get a Father’s Day holiday going in Chicago, too. So did Harry C. Meek, a Lions Club member who tried to persuade presidents to go along with it. But despite their efforts, it just wouldn’t gel.

“It has been suggested that it was father’s natural modesty which caused the plan to fail,” wrote the New York Times in 1926. Or maybe it was Americans’ unwillingness to put parents on a pedestal. “What greater wrong could we do as members of this great family of America than be the prime movers in the establishment of a separate day of worship of each parent?” asked a reader of a Christian newspaper in a 1911 letter to the editor.

But maybe there was another reason: the holiday’s unabashed alignment with the clothing industry from almost the start. The prospect of a holiday for fathers aroused the interest of clothing manufacturers, who began making plans for special sales.

In 1925 that backfired when different industries declared Father’s Day on different days. “Certain women’s clubs, aided by trade organizations interested in neckties, set out to honor [Father] on June 21,” The New York Times explained. “But other organizations, interested in tobacco, jumped in and set the great day for June 14.” A truce — and a June 21 date — was declared, but not before the mix-up and the holiday were roundly mocked.

Nevertheless, Father’s Day maintained its retail roots. In 1938, the National Dry Goods Retail Organization announced plans to “make Father’s Day as important an event” as Mother’s Day with a drive that included the producers of everything from robes to handkerchiefs to sporting goods.