"the three and a half hours which Uncle Sam claimed as his share of my daily life"
Hawthorne hard at work in the custom house
Public DomainHawthorne hard at work in the custom house - Credit: Hugh Thomson

Hawthorne’s working day is presumably so short because of the lack of demands on his attention rather than the government’s requirements. This was in a period before labor laws restricted the amount of time any individual could be made to work and the standard was between ten and twelve hours a day. Activists had been demanding a limit of ten, and later eight, hours be enforced since the 1790s, but it wasn’t until many decades later that they gained any success. Even when Congress passed an eight-hour-a-day law in 1868, it only applied to federal employees and was of very limited efficacy.

Cartoon of a government official having a snooze while disgruntled members of the public queue up at his desk
Public DomainCartoon of a government official having a snooze while disgruntled members of the public queue up at his desk - Credit: Bayard Taylor

 

Old-fashioned pocket watch
Creative Commons AttributionOld-fashioned pocket watch - Credit: Deutsches Uhrenmuseum