How much time for work?
As people increasingly considered the time spent at work a deduction from the time available for themselves, the length of the workday became a central issue between workers and managers. Workers—often through unions—bargained for shorter hours, as well as better working conditions and wages. Gradually and unevenly throughout the 1930s, the eight-hour day and the five-day work week became a standard.
"A Few Thoughts for a Few Thinkers," early 20th century
Courtesy of NMAH Archives Center, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana
Time agreement, 1920; for Tailor's Union of America, Local No. 53
Watch fob promoting the eight-hour day, date unknown; issued by the International Association of Machinists
Button promoting the eight-hour day, 1900–1910; issued by the American Federation of Labor
Steam whistle, about 1900; used at a Pennsylvania coal mine
Gift of Walter Rothacker
Synchronizing the Workplace
"Scientific management" experts promised that work synchronized to a uniform time standard would increase productivity and efficiency. Many factories installed electrical systems in which a master clock controlled secondary dials throughout a building, bells and whistles, and even time stamps for marking paperwork. Schools, department stores, and hospitals also installed electric time systems.
Pamphlet, early 20th century; for the International Time Recording Co. (now IBM Corp.), Endicott, New York
Punching the Clock
Time was money—in wages for the worker and in products and profits for the employer. Time clocks, first invented in the 1880s, were a tool for controlling time. By about 1910, as the influence of "scientific management" spread, nearly every blue-collar workplace had a time clock.
Workers, 1917; in line to have their time recorded at Bush Terminal, New York City
Timekeepers, 1917; at Bush Terminal, New York City
Time card stamped with arrival and departure times and, in red, times when the employee arrived late or left early
Advertisement, 1914; for the International Time Recording Co. (now IBM Corp.), Endicott, New York. At one time, the company offered 130 different sizes and styles of time clocks.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Managers sought to save time by measuring and controlling the amount of time a worker spent on any task. Frederick Winslow Taylor began a series of pioneering stopwatch studies in the 1880s. He timed each component of a given task, then streamlined them to speed completion in the name of efficiency. His work inspired generations of industrial engineers, who used the stopwatch in their research until the 1960s. Stopwatch studies often antagonized those being timed. Workers were sometimes prepared for studies with morale-boosting pamphlets.
Concealed stopwatches, 1911; an illustration from Shop Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor
Stopwatch and clipboard, about 1950; used to teach engineering students work-measurement methods
Gift of Georgia Institute of Technology,
School of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Pamphlet, 1946; distributed to employees at Dow Chemical Co.
Gift of Institute of Industrial Engineers
Poster, about 1918
Courtesy of NMAH Archives Center, Princeton University Poster Collection
Speedy efficiency became the manager's ideal in workplaces of all kinds—from factory floors to business and professional offices to churches. Wartime urgency added to the sense that time was a kind of pressure. Posters urged workers to make every minute count.