NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Memorial Day did not always mean a day off from work or even a holiday at all.

“It was seen as honoring the men who had saved the Union,” said Dr. James Marten, Professor Emeritus of History at Marquette University.

Marten has studied how Memorial Day has evolved over the decades. It all started with the Civil War.

“It was a very big deal to have fought this biggest war ever. Over 300,000 men died in the north during the war,” said Marten. “It was seen as a way of recognizing the strength of the country, recognizing the men who had saved the country in their minds.”

It also wasn’t even called Memorial Day back then—it was Decoration Day.

Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, encouraged people to lay flowers on the soldiers’ graves every May 30. However, in the 1970s, Congress changed the date, making it the final Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend.

Marten said that was a turning point when Memorial Day was not only a time to remember our fallen soldiers but also the unofficial start to summer.

“It’s become a holiday as opposed to a commemoration. It’s just like the Fourth of July. It’s just like Labor Day. It’s just like anything like that. Those are the three holidays kinda lumped into summer. It’s just another holiday for most people, I think,” said Marten. “It has lost that original somber meaning.”

Several cities from Columbus, Georgia to Richmond, Virginia, and Carbondale, Illinois like to claim they were the first Memorial Day. According to the federal government, however, Waterloo, New York holds that distinction.