Accompanied by kitsch brass music and surrounded by multi-coloured balloons, Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev led the march through a central Moscow avenue, in an event that took on a larger scale then previous years.
Police said around 120,000 people took part in the "Holiday of Labour and Spring" march in Moscow, by coincidence similar to the numbers said by the opposition to have shown up at anti-Putin demonstrations over the last months.
Marchers clutched multi-coloured balloons and unfurled huge banners proclaiming the names of their factories and unions as bands played rousing music that could have been taken from the score of a Soviet film.
"The Union of Machine Builders! Hurray!" declaimed the announcer as another workers group filed past the town hall on Moscow's Tverskaya Avenue.
It was the first time for years that Russia's rulers had joined the May Day rally which had been a key day in the calendar in the Communist Soviet Union. The last such appearance is believed to have been by Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
In a highly unusual joint public appearance on the streets of Moscow, Putin and Medvedev mingled with some of the marchers. "How are you doing?" asked Medvedev. "Great!" chorused the workers.
"Let's do this every year, let's make it a tradition!" one participant suggested to Russia's top two, while others asked about burning issues like how they stayed in such good form and if they read horoscopes.
Putin, wearing a suit without a tie under the bright spring sky, is due to be inaugurated as president in a May 7 ceremony after his March 4 election victory which the opposition claims was de-legitimised by fraud.
He is returning to the Kremlin job he held from 2000-2008 after a four year stint as prime minister while the post of head of state was occupied by Medvedev, who was widely ridiculed as a seat-warmer.
Putin appears to be counting on the working-class as the bedrock of his support as he heads into his six year term with Russia's burgeoning white collar middle class increasingly critical of his rule.
The anti-Putin opposition decided against holding a rally in Moscow on May 1 and instead are saving their forces for a so-called "march of millions" on May 6 which they hope will attract over 100,000 people to challenge Putin.