Woo hoo! It’s the weekend in Wonderopolis! That means no school for two whole days. For many adults, it also means two days off from work.
But have you ever stopped to wonder who invented weekends? Who came up with the idea of working five days and then taking two days off? Why didn’t they make the workweek two days and the weekend five days?
If you think about it, a two-day workweek wouldn’t give us much time to accomplish all the things we need to get done. How much could you learn if you only went to school two days each week? How many cars would be built if factories were only open two days per week?
As much as we love weekends, would you believe that they’ve only been around for less than 100 years? It’s true! For most of history, the workweek has been six or seven days long.
For much of history, taking one day of rest each week has been very common. This stems from various religious traditions. For example, Muslims traditionally took a day of rest on Friday, while Jews observed a day of rest on Saturday and Christians did so on Sunday.
It wasn’t until the industrial revolution of the late 1800s that the concept of a two-day “weekend” began to take shape. At this time, large factories that produced consumer goods were beginning to transform the traditional farming economy into an industrial one.
As farmers began to take jobs in factories, they often disliked working certain hours, since they were used to setting their own schedule on the farm. They also did not like the fact that many factory owners forced them to work seven days per week. They began to complain and ask for time off with their families.
Getting time off to worship on Sundays was fairly easy, since observing Sunday as a day of rest was a longstanding Christian tradition. Due to a large number of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s, factory owners also had many workers who wanted Saturday — the traditional Jewish day of rest — off instead.
Over time, factory owners realized that it would be most efficient to let workers off on both Saturday and Sunday. But Jewish and Christian factory workers weren’t entirely responsible for the invention of the weekend.
A prominent factory owner — Henry Ford — also played a big role. Even though the federal government didn’t begin to limit companies to a 40-hour workweek until 1938, Ford began to give his factory workers a two-day weekend in the early 1900s.
Why did he do this? He wanted to sell the cars his workers were making. He realized that his own workers were some of his best customers. If he wanted to sell more cars, he decided that his workers needed time off to be able to drive and enjoy them.
So the next time the weekend rolls around and you want to thank someone, thank the labor movement that existed in the factories in the late 1800s. And thank Henry Ford, who recognized that the economy gets a boost if workers have a couple of days off each week to purchase goods and enjoy using them!
Of course, when you go out on the weekend, you see people working everywhere you go. Not everyone works a traditional Monday through Friday workweek with Saturday and Sunday off. So that businesses can be open on the weekends, many people work flexible schedules that give them time off on other days of the week.