Book Review: Rates Of Wages And Hours Of Labor In Steam And Electric Railway Service In Massachusetts

Rates Of Wages And Hours Of Labor In Steam And Electric Railway Service In Massachusetts, by the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics

In reading a book like this, which consists of statistical tables about wages for railroad jobs in Massachusetts in the 1910’s during the early part of World War I before the United State’s involvement, one is tempted to think of what kind of people would appreciate the information in this book.  This book could easily be the raw material for a savagely harsh economic history about the wide disparity of wages as well as the calculation of wages, or for the standard of living for those who worked in a wide variety of railway jobs, or as a way of providing context for which groups of workers on the railroads would have been least dissatisfied with the meager wages as a doughboy in World War I.  From time to time I reflect on the issue of wages myself [1] or the worth of statistical approaches [2], and this book is a worthwhile occasion to read and reflect on such matters.  This is a book written without commentary and without frills, but it contains a great deal that is of interest to the right sort of reader.

The contents of this 60-odd page book consist of nine lengthy statistical tables with wages and hourly limits for a wide variety of jobs related to the four railroads of Massachusetts.  The first seven tables relate to the steam railroad service, including the operation of trains, signal maintenance service, station and ferry service, switch tower service, car shop service, maintenance of way service, and roundhouse service.  The last two tables deal with wages and hourly limits on the electric railroad service in the operation of cars and in construction, maintenance, and repair.  After this comes an index of occupations involved in the railroads–and there are a lot of them.  It should be noted that the tables do not only include hourly wages but also daily, weekly, and monthly salaries.  Some of the job classes, like statistician, only occur on one railroad, and some jobs, like painter and machinist, include more than 10 different classes of employee with very different wages between the classes.  The tables contain footnotes that comment upon the wages being increased from before or about the reclassification of jobs among the railroads, which are labeled A, B, C, and D for the sake of convenience.

One fact which springs out rather automatically is that there was a wide disparity in the wages between different sorts of jobs.  There were a great many jobs ranging form apprentices and helpers of various kinds to painters and machinists and night watchmen that had wages twenty cents and hour or below.  In contrast, office employees and managers and foremen of various kinds tended to fare pretty well in terms of their salaries and wages, and most of them were paid on a weekly or monthly basis rather than an hourly one, similar to the wage earner/hourly divide between that exists in contemporary businesses.  It is unclear what exactly the state of Massachusetts was done in publishing this set of statistics.  It is the sort of thing that would tend to encourage a great deal of concern about wide inequalities and disparities in wages and likely a great deal of dissatisfaction among those whose wages were towards the lower end of the scale.  Of course, such people were probably not fond readers of statistics, given how uninteresting such matters are to the great mass of humanity, as ironic it is that such statistics have always formed a great deal of our own understanding of how life was for humanity whenever such information is available.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s