Presidents Day originated as the celebration of the birthday of George Washington, the first president of the country. This day was known as “Washington’s Birthday,” and it was informally observed in many communities across the country from the year following his death in 1799. The holiday was unofficially observed for most of the 1800s. Then, in 1879, it was signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes as a federal holiday and the first holiday to celebrate the life of an individual.
In the late 1960s, Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The act shifted several federal holidays from specific dates to predetermined Mondays. It was thought that moving the holidays to Monday would give employees additional three-day weekends and reduce employee absenteeism.
The act included a provision to combine Washington’s birthday, which falls on February 22, with Lincoln’s birthday, which falls on February 12. Thus, though the holiday is still written as “Washington’s Birthday” in federal law, it soon was popularly understood to be a celebration of Washington, Lincoln, and all other citizens who served as President of the United States – thus evolving to become “Presidents Day.”