During the 19th century, life of an American industrial worker was difficult, laborious, and filled with tension. Initially, there weren't well-maintained regulations, if any, that managed worker's rights or took worker's rights into consideration. Despite many people immigrating to the United States for work at the time, industrial work infrequently paid enough for livable wages, creating a sense of despair for those workers in America. Want to learn more about your ancestor's labor struggles or get a better picture of what their working lives were like? Check our newspapers!
Due to new technology, machines, and industry products were now being made in factories much quicker resulting in products that could be sold at much lower prices, which meant that workers weren't paid as much as they used to be. Mass production also contributed to poorer working environments for those employees. The wages were very low for workers, often much below the needs to survive, and the hours were very long ranging from 10 hours per day to even 12 hours per day for steel industry workers. The working conditions were dangerous on top of it all. Women and children made up a large percentage of the workforce and also endured long, 10 hour workdays and also didn't make wages enough to make ends meet, often wages much lower than men. Instead of being creators working on something from start to finish, a dress, for example, workers would be placed within one portion of the factory doing repetitive tasks and would be pressured to complete their portion quicker and quicker for faster overall turnaround.
As master craftsmen and skilled tradesmen were being replaced by new technology, machines, and industry, the need for unskilled labor exploded, opening up the doors to an influx of immigrants looking for work. If your ancestor immigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there's a chance your ancestor came over specifically to work. As a result of the increasing work and poor conditions, many labor unions began, but it wasn't until the 1930's when the federal government began intervening and creating stricter regulations. Until those regulations were put into place, the American workforce faced violence, tension, and difficult fights for worker's rights.
Searching our newspapers can provide an amazing amount of detail and firsthand accounts of the labor struggles your ancestors may have endured. Try looking at our US newspaper collection to see how the news reported on famous historical events that your ancestors might have been involved with for more details than just the history books provide! Try searching for The Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886 or try searching for The New York Times for the first labor day parade celebrated on September 5, 1882! Were your ancestors there to celebrate?