I don’t care who you are or where you live or if you work or are retired, Payday is likely to be one of the most important days on your calendar. We all know what it means and how important it is to us. Today, most of us are likely to receive our pay by means of direct deposit or “electronic funds transfer”, but that was not always the case. In the 19th and most of the 20th century payday meant you would receive either cash or a printed check which you could take to the bank to get your cash. That was the way at Westclox.
We don’t have a lot of information about how much employees earned in the earliest years of the company, but it is likely that initially employees were paid daily, as was the custom with most employers. I can tell you that the work hours each day and week were considerably longer than what the average person works today, and there was no such thing as “overtime” for more than 40 hours per week. In fact, in 1889 Westclox employees worked 60 hours each week – 10 hours per day, six days a week. By 1903 hours were reduced to 57 per week, and in 1908 hours were shortened to 9 hours per day, or 54 per week, but no Saturday afternoon hours during summer – an innovation for that time. In 1918, employees had Saturday afternoons off all year round. Westclox was one of the leaders in the nation in this change.
In 1920 hours were 8 ½ Monday through Friday and 4 ½ hours on Saturday, for a total of
47 hours per week. In 1923, Westclox employees were overwhelmingly opposed to a proposed 8 hour per day law. If passed, workers would work 8 hours per day Monday through Friday and 6 ½ hours on Saturday, instead of the 8 ½ hours Monday through Friday and 4 ½ hours on Saturday. A vote taken among employees showed a resounding 2,176 in favor of their current schedule and only 49 in favor of the 8 hour law. By 1927, the 8 hour law was in effect, and by 1933 the company had stopped working on Saturday mornings, resulting in a 40 hour week.
We recently acquired a copy of an original Westclox blueprint of plans for a pay wagon, which was ultimately constructed in-house upon an electric truck that could be driven through the plant to distribute payroll to employees. This plan was drawn on March 17, 1920 (Remember that date.), and if you read and understand the specifications, you might wonder, “What in the heck did they need something that sturdy for?” Well, let me tell you the rest of the story:
In about 1913, Westclox acquired its first motorized truck and appointed an employee from the traffic department as chauffer. (He got the job simply because he knew how to drive an automobile!) The chauffer used the truck to take home persons who were ill, carry finished clocks to the railroad station and haul raw material. On payday a heavy iron safe was chained to the floor of the truck, and two armed guards accompanied it as money was carried from the bank to the plant. Remember, I told you employees were paid in cash in those early years? Well here is the final surprise – not only were employees paid in cash, they were paid in GOLD! This fact is verified by the company history, compiled by the company itself.
Now, remember that date I told you to remember – March 17. Yes, that is St. Patrick’s Day. Is it a coincidence, or was the pay wagon sort of the Leprechaun’s pot of gold for the Westclox employees?
In March of 2016, you will be able to see a scale model of the pay wagon, built using specifications on the original blueprint, on permanent display at the museum.
“You never know what you might find at the Westclox Museum!”