Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford are considered among the handful of capitalists who played a defining role in building America. The early 20th century skyscrapers in the US stood on Carnegie’s steel and Ford revolutionized the automobile industry with his low-cost cars.
Carnegie became the richest man in America when he retired and sold his company to JP Morgan for a sum that was equivalent to $400 billion in today’s money. Sadly, Andrew’s billions were amassed at the cost of factory workers’ sweat and blood. Literally.
The working conditions in steel mills in the late 19th century and early 20th century were inhumane and unsafe. Some estimate that the rate of serious accidents (often leading to death) was as high as 10 percent. Twelve to fourteen hours a day and six to seven days a week was standard at that time. There was no extra pay for overtime. Not only that, the hourly wages were squeezed so the hilt to drive profitability. And any resistance from labour unions was often crushed ruthlessly with the help of private armies like Pinkertons. (Trivia: at one time Pinkertons had more armed personnel in their squad than the entire US national army.)
This changed when Ford entered the scene. He offered his workers the luxury of 40-hour work week, great hourly wages, and safe working conditions. With his assembly line, he was able to achieve better productivity and lower costs without compromising on labour wages and working hours. The life of a factory worker was no more exhausting and unsafe. Other industries (including steel and railroad) had to follow suit and offer the same deal as Ford did to the labour force.
However, there was still one thing common between a Carnegie’s factory worker and Ford’s assembly line foreman. Their output was directly tied to the number of hours they spent on the shop floor. It mattered how fast they moved their hands. When a steel mill worker left early on a day, it was a loss of business for the bosses. Similarly, when a Ford employee on the assembly line took an extended lunch break, it wasn’t acceptable to his supervisor.
[Read more…] about Wasted Hours and Saved Years