Everyone knows workplace conditions were a animal in times gone by, but it’s still eye-opening to consider just how different things were. Consider this old poster, which I saw on a recent visit to the Furnacetown Living Heritage Village near Snow Hill, Md.
The Village is on the site of an old bog-iron-making operation, but these Furnacetown rules actually apply to the clerical staff, not manual laborers. The year in question is 1852. The memo starts out with good news: The workday has been reduced to a mere 11 hours! But it goes downhill after that …
OFFICE RULES IN 1852
• The firm has reduced the hours of work, the staff will now only have to be present between 7 am and 6 pm.
• Clothes must be of a sober nature.
• Each member of the clerical staff must bring 4 pounds of coal each day, during cold or damp weather.
• No member of the clerical staff may leave the room, without permission from Mrs. Fischer. Calls of nature are permitted.
• No talking is allowed during business hours. The craving of tobacco, wines, and spirits is a human weakness and as such is forbidden.
• The partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and Noon but work will not on any account cease.
• The new increased weekly wages are:
Junior Boys (5 to 11 years) .15
Boys (to 14 years) .15
Junior Clerks 1.06
Senior Clerks 2.50
(after 15 years with owners)
• All apprentices are to be indentured from 7 to 12 years. Any breach of Contract is faulted, by law, to jail term, and fine to the parents.
The Printing Office
I am posting these Furnacetown rules during Labor Day weekend, 2018, in hopes that it will serve as a cause for gratitude, even among those of you feeling like they have the worst office job in the modern-day world. Hey, at least you don’t have to cart four pounds of coal into the office every day!
–posted by Jim Duffy on Aug. 31, 2018.
NOTE: If you are interested in visiting Furnacetown Living Heritage Village, here is the website where you will find everything you need.
NOTE #2: The illustration up top here is not a depiction of Furnacetown. Rather, it’s an illustration of a typical office environment from the period–in this case, a Wells Fargo office in the 1860s. My guess is that this image, with its squeaky clean windows and tidy floor, looks much more pleasant than the old reality …