Year
1926

Ford factory workers get 40-hour week

On this day in 1926, Ford Motor Company becomes one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories. The policy would be extended to Ford’s office workers the following August. 

Henry Ford’s Detroit-based automobile company had broken ground in its labor policies before. In early 1914, against a backdrop of widespread unemployment and increasing labor unrest, Ford announced that it would pay its male factory workers a minimum wage of $5 per eight-hour day, upped from a previous rate of $2.34 for nine hours (the policy was adopted for female workers in 1916). The news shocked many in the industry–at the time, $5 per day was nearly double what the average auto worker made–but turned out to be a stroke of brilliance, immediately boosting productivity along the assembly line and building a sense of company loyalty and pride among Ford’s workers.

The decision to reduce the workweek from six to five days had originally been made in 1922. According to an article published in The New York Times that March, Edsel Ford, Henry’s son and the company’s president, explained that “Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”

Henry Ford said of the decision: “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” At Ford’s own admission, however, the five-day workweek was also instituted in order to increase productivity: Though workers’ time on the job had decreased, they were expected to expend more effort while they were there. Manufacturers all over the country, and the world, soon followed Ford’s lead, and the Monday-to-Friday workweek became standard practice.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Battle of Manila Bay

At Manila Bay in the Philippines, the U.S. Asiatic Squadron destroys the Spanish Pacific fleet in the first battle of the Spanish-American War. Nearly 400 Spanish sailors were killed and 10 Spanish warships wrecked or captured at the cost of only six Americans wounded.The ...read more

Great Exhibition opens

On May 1, 1851, the Great Exhibition opens to wide acclaim in the Crystal Palace in London. Inside the Crystal Palace, a giant glass-and-iron hall designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, more than 10,000 exhibitors set up eight miles of tables. Technological wonders from around the world ...read more

An American tops Everest

James Whittaker of Redmond, Washington, becomes the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.Located in the central Himalayas on the border of China and Nepal, Everest stands 29,028 feet above sea level. Called Chomo-Lungma, or “Mother ...read more

Empire State Building dedicated

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City’s Empire State Building, pressing a button from the White House that turns on the building’s lights. Hoover’s gesture, of course, was symbolic; while the president remained in Washington, D.C., ...read more

North Vietnamese troops capture Quang Tri

North Vietnamese troops capture Quang Tri City, the first provincial capital taken during their ongoing offensive. The fall of the city effectively gave the communists control of the entire province of Quang Tri. As the North Vietnamese prepared to continue their attack to the ...read more

Rickey Henderson breaks stolen base record

On May 1, 1991, Oakland Athletics outfielder Rickey Henderson steals his 939th base to break Lou Brock’s record for stolen bases in a career. Henderson stole a total of 1,406 bases in his major league career, almost 500 more than the next closest player. Henderson was also the ...read more

Calamity Jane is born

On this day, the adventurer and performer Calamity Jane is born near Princeton, Missouri.The myths and fabrications concerning the life of Calamity Jane are so numerous it is difficult to discover her true story. Legend has it that at various times Jane worked as a dishwasher at ...read more

Joseph Heller is born

Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, is born this day in 1923 near Coney Island in Brooklyn. His father, a Russian immigrant who drove a bakery delivery truck, died when Heller was five. Heller attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and worked as a filing clerk and ...read more

Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro premieres in Vienna

By 1786, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was probably the most experienced and accomplished 30-year-old musician the world has ever seen, with dozens of now-canonical symphonies, concertos, sonatas, chamber works and masses already behind him. He also had 18 operas to his name, but none ...read more

Citizen Kane released

Months before its release, Orson Welles’ landmark film Citizen Kane began generating such controversy that Radio City Music Hall eventually refused to show it. Instead, Citizen Kane, now revered as one of the greatest movies in history, made its debut at the smaller RKO Palace ...read more

Record-breaking tornado wave begins

A record-breaking wave of tornadoes begins across the southern and midwestern United States on this day in 2003. By the time the wave is over, more than 500 tornadoes are recorded for the month, shattering the previous record by more than 100. The amazing spate of twisters ...read more

Former NBA All-Star indicted

On May 1, 2002, former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams was indicted on a series of charges, including aggravated manslaughter, in connection with the shooting death of limousine driver Costas Christofi at Williams’ estate on February 14.Williams enjoyed a successful NBA career with ...read more

Battle of Chancellorsville begins

On this day in 1863, the Battle of Chancellorsville begins in Virginia. Earlier in the year, General Joseph Hooker led the Army of the Potomac into Virginia to confront Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker had recently replaced Ambrose Burnside, who presided over the ...read more

American U-2 spy plane shot down

An American U-2 spy plane is shot down while conducting espionage over the Soviet Union. The incident derailed an important summit meeting between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that was scheduled for later that month.The U-2 spy plane was the ...read more