Henrys $5 day stunned the world
Two gallons of milk and a loaf of bread? Maybe -- if they're on sale. A movie ticket? Good luck.
Back in 1914 -- the year Joe DiMaggio was born, the year the first traffic light in the United States was installed in Cleveland, and the year that World War I began - a first-class postage stamp cost 2 cents.
Yes, five bucks was a lot of money 89 years ago.
According to the American Institute for Economic Research, $5 in 1914 equaled about $89.90 in 2002 dollars.
So when Henry Ford announced that he would pay his factory workers $5 a day, it was big money and big news.
"Ford's announcement was like the dazzling burst of a rocket in velvet skies," wrote Allan Nevins, in his book, Ford: The Times, the Man, the Company. "Headlines blazed throughout the globe."
It made auto workers the best paid blue-collar employees in the United States, a distinction their union, the UAW, still holds.
In 1913, Ford added the assembly line at his plant in Highland Park, Mich., and production and sales soared.
The typical laborer made $2.34 a day for a nine-hour shift, or 26 cents an hour. The work was monotonous.
All day long, workers stood by a conveyor belt like robots, performing the same task over and over.
"Ford did keep his factories well lighted and ventilated, and he worked hard to prevent accidents on the job," Burton Folsom wrote in Henry Ford and the Triumph of the Auto Industry. "But the work was not challenging. Partly as a result he (and many other industrial employers) had high rates of turnover and absenteeism. Ford found himself spending $100 to train each new worker, though many stayed only for a month or two and then quit."
To keep his employees, and keep them happy, Ford on Jan. 5, 1914, announced that his employees would be paid $5 a day, and the work day would be cut from nine hours to eight so a third shift could be added.
Historians speculate that there may have been other reasons Ford doubled his workers' pay. Some say he wanted to share his good fortune with his employees, while others insist that he wanted to make sure the people who built his product could afford to buy it.
Whether it was generosity or self-interest, the $5-a-day wage led people from all walks of life to Ford.
Married men and those with dependents were given the first preference in employment.
The news of a $5 work day spread throughout the South and helped fuel what has become known as the Great Migration, in which an estimated 400,000 black people headed north in search of work in Detroit's auto factories from 1916 through 1918.
Ford Motor Co. went from 50 black employees in 1916 to 2,500 in 1920 and 5,000 in 1923, according to August Meier and Elliott Rudwick in Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW.
Women did not share the bounty of the higher wage - at least not in the beginning - because they were expected to get married. In October 1916, Ford included women in the plan.
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