Did Henry Ford Really Invent the 5-Day Workweek?
We just celebrated Labor Day, a day set aside to recognize just how hard Americans work. That recognition came from the industrialization of the United States in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
It was of course around that time that Henry Ford came onto the scene with his steam engine and eventually the Model T automobile. Ford, as we know, was based right here in Michigan. The Ford Motor Company to this day calls Detroit home.
Ford is responsible for tons of inventions, particularly in the automotive realm (though not the automobile itself, to be clear). One of his most significant inventions as a businessman was the assembly line, which allowed for mass production to be streamlined with many workers operating several machines to create a product.
Tying the Ford and Labor Day back together, I saw a meme on social media over the weekend berating Ford for inventing the 8-hour, 5-day workweek. That sprung the question in my mind: Did Henry Ford really invent the concept and is it really something worth trashing him for in 2023?
It is true, Ford did conceptualize the idea of a 40-hour workweek spread over five days and eight-hour shifts. He did so in September 1926, nearly 100 years ago. However, if your first instinct is to groan at the structure, you may want to hold back for just a bit.
Ford actually cut the work week from six days to five at the Ford Motor Company and paid his employees $5 per day, a stark increase in pay at the time. Before Ford adopted the change, it was common for early industrial employees to work 70-hour, six-day workweeks. Some even topped 100 hours.
In the wake of the 2020 pandemic and experiments with shorter workweeks in some European countries and certain U.S. companies, there's a growing number of supporters for a 32-hour, four-day workweek. It may take a long time for that to truly catch on, but it has seen positive results in some trial runs around the world.
The 40-hour, five-day workweek may not be a perfect solution in the eyes of many, but it is one that has worked for Americans for nearly 100 years. And it started right here in Michigan.