June 30, 2010

On track

Happy Gadsden Purchase day!

This is the day the conditions of the purchase went into effect and we began to get our $10 million worth – or rather the railroads did, because a transcontinental railroad was the whole point.  Here is what the Gadsden Purchase consisted of: 30,000,000 acres of Southern Arizona and a very small chunk of New Mexico.

Gadsden Purchase

(Let’s hope residents of Phoenix properly appreciate Mr. Gadsden.)

Franklin Pierce, who was our fourteenth president, signed the purchase in 1851.  It’s about the biggest thing he did, except reverse the Missouri Compromise.

Amtrak route

The deal, needless to say, was very unpopular in Mexico and contributed to the unseating in 1854 of General Santa Anna by Benito Juarez.

Without it, there would have been no 3:10 to Yuma, because the railroads declined to build a northern route, when a southern one would be much easier and cheaper.  As you can see, the modern route still follows the outline of the purchase.  I have no idea how you get from Maricopa to Phoenix.  Bus maybe.

* * *

The forty hour week was inaugurated about this time in 1938, as was the minimum wage.  Curiously, these events occurred when millions were out of work, but it was entirely the Roosevelt effect.  What is quite startling is that the first minimum wage was forty cents an hour and the current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour  – which in 1938 dollars is about fifty cents an hour.

The forty-hour week got off to a rough start because the rules were suspended during World War II, but it became the norm post-war.  An interesting chart on Wikipedia shows annual hours worked at various times and places in human history.  It was assembled by Juliet Schor, a professor at Boston College who studies work, leisure and consumption. (Sorry it’s untidy – haven’t figured out how to format it yet.)

Annual hours over eight centuries

Year Type of worker Annual hours

13th century             Adult male peasant, UK               1620 hours

14th century              Casual laborer, UK                       1440 hours

Middle Ages              English worker                              2309 hours

1400–1600                Farmer-miner, male, UK              1980 hours

1840                           Average worker, UK                    3105–3588 hours

1850                           Average worker, U.S.                   3150–3650 hours

1987                          Average worker, U.S.                    1949 hours

1988                          Manufacturing workers, UK          1855 hours

2004                          Average worker, Germany              1480 hours

2008                          Average worker, India                    2817 – 3443 hours

Maybe life wasn’t so bad in the 13th century – but we’re all certainly better off than we were during the 19th.  Below, one of Lewis Hines’ photographs for the National Committee on Child Labor.  These are very young cotton mill workers who worked 10 or 12 hours a day:

Worker at Vermont mill, 1908, Lewis Hines, Library of Congress, ref.01773v.

Operatives in Indianapolis Cotton Mill, 1908, Lewis Hines. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div., ref 01329v


1 Comment »

  1. Wow, this is very interesting actually… 🙂


    Comment by ninachat — July 1, 2010 @ 9:28 am | Reply

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