Henry Ford Announces 5 Day Work Week

No industrialist enjoyed upsetting the apple cart more than Henry Ford.

In 1914 he announced that he would pay $5 a day to his workers, double the going rate. With the extra cash, Ford reasoned, they could purchase his Model Ts. The workers were becoming a bulwark of the middle class.

Ford's next act came in September 1926, when the company announced the five-day workweek. As he noted in his company's Ford News in October, "Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity ... It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege." The five-day week, he figured, would encourage industrial workers to vacation and shop on Saturday. Before long, manufacturers all over the world followed his lead. "People who have more leisure must have more clothes," he argued. "They eat a greater variety of food. They require more transportation in vehicles." Taking advantage of his own wisdom, he discontinued the Model T and then, on a Saturday, launched the Model A. The 1927 unveiling would see 10,534,992 peo

On this day in 1926, Ford Motor Company becomes one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories. The policy would be extended to Ford's office workers the following August.

Henry Ford's Detroit-based automobile company had broken ground in its labor policies before. In early 1914, against a backdrop of widespread unemployment and increasing labor unrest, Ford announced that it would pay its male factory workers a minimum wage of $5 per eight-hour day, upped from a previous rate of $2.34 for nine hours (the policy was adopted for female workers in 1916). The news shocked many in the industry--at the time, $5 per day was nearly double what the average auto worker made--but turned out to be a stroke of brilliance, immediately boosting productivity along the assembly line and building a sense of company loyalty and pride among Ford's workers.

The decision to reduce the workweek from six to five days had originally been made in 1922. According to an article published in The New York Times that March, Edsel Ford, Henry's son and the company's president, explained that "Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family."

Henry Ford said of the decision: "It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either 'lost time' or a class privilege." At Ford's own admission, however, the five-day workweek was also instituted in order to increase productivity: Though workers' time on the job had decreased, they were expected to expend more effort while they were there. Manufacturers all over the country, and the world, soon followed Ford's lead, and the Monday-to-Friday workweek became standard practice.