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Time Line–A Brief History of the Workday
1877: The first American general strike against railroad companies, the most important U.S. industry at the time. Called the Great Upheaval, the strike was triggered after the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company cut wages by 10 percent.
1884: The national Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passes a resolution calling for eight hours to be a legal day of work.
1886: The year of the Great Uprising of Labor, including the May Day Strike for the eight-hour day.

1906: The eight-hour day is widely instituted throughout the printing industry.

 
1910s: Responding to growing numbers of women entering the workforce, some states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Utah, reduce the legal workweek limit for women from 54 to 48 hours.
1910: Nine hours is still the average U.S. workday.  
1914: Ford Motor Company reduces employees daily hours from nine to eight and also doubles their daily pay to $5.
1916: A federal law called the Adamson Act passes, setting a standard 48-hour workweek for railroad workers.

1918: A federal negotiator appointed by President Woodrow Wilson orders a shorter workweek in the country's meat packing plants, from 60 to 48 hours.

 
1919: Trade union membership doubles over the last decade to four million and many union leaders head up federal agencies.

1923: U.S. Steel Corporation institutes an eight-hour day policy.

 
1933: Franklin Roosevelt is elected U.S. president and his administration introduces sweeping social and economic policies during the New Deal era.

 

1938: Congress passes the Fair Labor Standards Act, setting the maximum workweek without overtime at 44 hours. The act also establishes a minimum wage and a ban on child labor.

1940: Congress amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, reducing the federal workweek limit to 40 hours.

 

Sources:

Brecher, J. Strike!. South End Press Classics, 1997.

Whaples, R. "Winning the Eight-hour Day, 1909-1919." The Journal of Economic History, Vol. L, No. 2, June 1990.

Foner, P. May Day: A short history of the international workers' holiday. International Publishers, 1986.


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