Factory Life in the 1800's
The Industrial Revolution occurred in the late 1800's. Machines began to take the place of what several humans could do. Many people were employed in factories where items were manufactured. Conditions in these factories were very poor.
Children went to work as early as the age of seven. Wages were very low. Since there was no regulation by any area of government, workplaces were often unsafe and unhealthy. If a worker was injured or died at a factory, the company offered no help to the family. By 1900, deaths in factories amounted to 35,000 a year. Injuries affected 500,000 people. When an incident occurred in one location where a great number of factory workers died, people noticed these poor working conditions.
Women and children were hired to save money for the company. They were paid much less than an adult male would have been paid. Some women even worked in heavy labor as machinists or railroad workers.
The number of working children under the age of sixteen grew to 1.6 million by 1900. They worked long hours for little pay. Some states passed child labor laws which limited the children to working ten hours per day. All companies did not obey these laws. Many children were killed or injured.
Some workers quit these poor factory conditions. Some remained and lowered their rate of production or tried to break the machines. Some began to organize labor unions to fight for better pay and conditions. Many just endured the poor situations. Although thousands joined labor unions in the late 1800's, many workers were still not organized into the 1900's.
Business owners argued that higher wages would bring about higher prices for the consumers. In the 1890's, the government called the unions organizations operating 'in restraint of trade.' The government used the Sherman Antitrust Act against unions instead of against businesses.
Between 1890 and 1920, a period called the Progressive Era, many groups were organized to fight low wages, child labor and long hours for factory workers. Several states passed laws to provide minimum wages for women, do away with child labor, and provide funds for workers hurt on the job. Workers' compensation is the phrase describing financial help for those workers injured at work.
The unions did not want these problems to be handled by laws. They wanted to use the power of the labor unions to bargain with employers. Businesses persuaded unions to accept workers' compensation deals which were not as good as the workers wanted. Businesses did not want to include certain types of workers in the plans. They just wanted to protect themselves from having to pay large sums of money which might be demanded by the courts in case of an injury.
In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee was formed to convince states to pass laws ending the employment of young children. The committee was not effective because states were hesitant to pass laws which were too tough on businesses in case the laws would drive a business to another state which did not have such harsh laws.
In 1912, the Department of Commerce and Labor began a Children's Bureau to investigate 'all matters pertaining to children.' Efforts to pass laws against child Labor continually failed. Finally, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.
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