A Brief History of Father's Day

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By: J. Glenn Hopkins, President/CEO

Four thousand years ago, in ancient Babylon, a young boy by the name of Elmesu carved a message out of clay wishing his father good health and a long life. This was one of the first, but certainly not the last time a father would be publicly honored.

In 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event celebrating fathers. While this is considered the first such event held in the United States honoring fathers, it was a one-time event and not an annual holiday. The ceremony commemorated the 362 men who died the previous December in an explosion at the Fairmont Coal Company mines. 

The next year a woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd pushed to establish an official holiday for fathers similar to that of Mother’s Day in order to honor her father, a widowed man who was able to raise six children on his own. Due to her tenacity, she succeeded in persuading Washington State to celebrate the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.

The holiday eventually spread throughout the country, and in 1916 President Wilson gave the day national recognition. However, the holiday continued to struggle to get a large following from fathers due mostly to fear of yet another commercialized holiday.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation finally making Father’s Day an official federal holiday.  It is officially celebrated in the U.S. on the third Sunday of June.  

Other countries soon picked up on the idea of Father’s Day. While many followed suit by celebrating it on the third Sunday in June, some decided to honor dad on different dates:

•    March 14- Iran
•    March 19- Bolivia, Honduras, Italy, Lichtenstein, Portugal, Spain
•    May 8- South Korea
•    First Sunday in June- Lithuania
•    Second Sunday in June- Austria, Ecuador, Belgium
•  Third Sunday in June- Antigua, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Trinidad, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Zimbabwe
•    June 17- El Salvador, Guatemala
•    June 23- Nicaragua, Poland, Uganda
•    Second Sunday in July- Uruguay
•    Last Sunday in July- Dominican Republic
•    Second Sunday in August- Brazil
•    August 8- Taiwan, China
•    August 24- Argentina
•    First Sunday in September- Australia, New Zealand
•    New Moon of September- Nepal
•    First Sunday in October- Luxembourg
•    Second Sunday in November- Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden
•    December 5- Thailand
Today there are more than 70 million fathers in the United States, who all play an important role we must not forget. The commercialization of this holiday has grown over the years, with an estimated $13 billion spent on Father’s Day gifts in 2013, but hopefully the original message of the day is not forgotten.
Whatever your plans are for Father’s Day, it is important to remember the true intention of the holiday that Sonora Smart Dodd worked so hard to advertise: to honor the hard work of all the wonderful fathers everywhere.


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