On October 24, 1940, the forty-hour work week was begun as a provision of the Fair Labor Standard Act, which also established a minimum wage of twenty-five cents per hour. A steady decrease in time spent on the job was recorded over the preceding century. The rise of labor unions caused an acceleration of this trend, resulting in a 35-percent reduction of manufacturing work hours between 1900 and 1940, and many economists and politicios assumed this trend would continue. In 1933 Congress even considered the Thirty-Hour Work Week Bill, which was derailed by business interested after it was okayed by the Senate. But expectations persisted. In 1956, for example, conservative vice president Richard Nixon confidently predicted that Americans would work a four-day week in the “not so distant future.” Three years later Edmund Ziegler agreed, writing in The Nation, “The extra day of leisure for Americans will have an effect as profound as that produced by the automobile.”
I feel this one keenly:
On October 28, 1853, six years after leaving the solace of Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal: “My publisher has been writing from time to time to ask what disposition should be made of the copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers still on hand, and at last suggesting that he had use for the room they occupied in his cellar. So I had them all sent to me here, and they have arrived to-day by express, filling the man’s wagon – 706 copies out of an edition of 1000. . . I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.” Looking on the bright side, the reclusive philosopher added: “Sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed, I believe that this result is more inspiring and better for me than if a thousand had bought my wares. It affect my privacy less and leaves me freer.”
And now to bed.