We’re just gonna come right out and say it: It’s banana nuts that minimum wage laws haven’t existed as long as wages and laws. To our modern minds, it’s immediately obvious that offering a handful of change and a bag of Skittles for manning an industrial sewing machine all day is a human rights violation, but the history of the minimum wage is bafflingly complicated and disturbingly short.

The First State Laws

Massachusetts State House

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Massachusetts passed the first state-level minimum wage law in 1912, but it was a lot different from today’s minimum wage laws in that it didn’t actually establish a minimum wage. The law only required the formation of a committee to whom employees could complain about low pay, and if they were found to have merit, their employer was named and shamed in the local paper. It also only applied to women and children, so men’s rights activists would have been reasonable at the time.

What Does “Federal” Mean, Anyway?

Until 1961, federal minimum wage laws only applied to businesses involved in interstate commerce, which is what the federal government had decided was their scope. That year, though, the law was expanded to cover way more employees because it turns out the federal government can be whatever we want it to be.

A Long Way to Go

Minimum wage protest

(Fibonacci Blue/Wikimedia Commons)

The last time the minimum wage was raised was 2009, when it was set at $7.25. Inflation has increased 38% since then, so if any politicians are out there, that might be something to look into. This is definitely the first time it’s been brought to your attention.

Top image: Steven Cleghorn/Unsplash

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