Monthly Archives: August 2017

Where Did Weekends Come From?

It comes every five days, and people young and old are excited to see it.

They’re sad to see it go, but know that it’ll be back before long.

100 years ago it didn’t even exist. What is it?

The weekend!

So where did our beloved weekend actually come from?

It was the labor movement, it turns out, that gave us the weekend. Before that, we regulated our own days.

Many of our ancestors worked on farms, where, of course, the work goes on much the same every day of the week. Cows don’t take breaks from producing milk and chickens lay eggs no matter the day.

But with the Industrial Revolution, work lives changed dramatically. Before the 1800s, most people, including children, were working long days — sometimes 10 to 16 hours — and seven days a week.

It wasn’t so hard to get Sundays off, for religious observance. It was the second day that proved the tougher nut to crack.

But then came a huge influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s — and the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday. That, eventually, helped lead to our having two days off in a row.

Henry Ford had a hand in the whole thing, too. He didn’t like labor unions, but he did like the idea of weekends.

In 1926, he began shutting down his automobile factories on Saturdays and Sundays and giving his workers those days off. And though he reduced his workers to a five-day work week instead of a six-day one, he did not reduce their pay.

Photo by Paul VanDerWerf / CC BY 2.0

At the same time, he published editorials promoting the idea of Model T weekend getaways and drives in the country — which, after all, people couldn’t pursue if they didn’t have the time to get away.

Three years later, the first union to demand a five-day work week — and get it — was the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Union.

The rest of the country slowly followed suit, so to speak, but the two-day weekend didn’t go into effect nationwide until 1940; that’s also when the 40-hour work week was mandated.

How hard and long did your ancestors work?

Ancestry has collections of searchable employment records (UK railroad employment, California railroad employment, New South Wales Australia police employment, among others).

Census data also lists occupation information that will help you make deductions about your ancestors’ work life.

You can also view fascinating record collections like the UK Commissioners’ Report of Children’s Employment, 1842 that give you an unbelievably personal look at your relatives’ lives.

We’ve come a long way in the last few generations. Maybe our love of the weekend comes from our ancestors’ fight for it.

Who were your ancestors who lived before the two-day weekend became the norm? Will knowing what their lives were like inspire you?  Find out today!

— Leslie Lang

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