professional work hours circa 1900

Telephone traffic profiles by time of day at the beginning of the twentieth century provide evidence of work hours. Analyzing telephone traffic data, a telephone engineer with Chicago Telephone Company described the Chicago business day about 1902:

In the Main office district in Chicago the business day may be said to have begun at 8.30 in the morning.  There is a partial cessation of business for luncheon between 12.30 and 1.30 o’clock and the business day closes at about 5:30 p.m.  For Central office also in the downtown district the business day is from 8:30 in the morning until 5.30 in the afternoon with scarcely any let up for lunch.  Lawyers predominate in the Central district.[1]

So professionals in Chicago about 1902 worked roughly an 8-hour day, with lawyers perhaps working through lunch for a 9-hour day.[2]  Today many lawyers and professionals in major U.S. cities probably work longer hours than those.

Professional work hours in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York about 1902 were even shorter. The telephone traffic engineer noted:

In Philadelphia … we find the heavy traffic between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., with lunch between 12 and 1.30.

In Boston the traffic shows a work day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with time for luncheon in different [telephone] offices varying from one and a half hours to two hours, between 12 and 2 o’clock.

New York telephone users seem to take life even more serenely than those of Philadelphia or Boston and we find the work day beginning as late as 9.30 in the morning and ending at about 4.30 in the afternoon, with two hours for lunch between 12 and 2 o’clock.[3]

At the start of the twentieth century, New York City had by far the largest population of any U.S. city.  It was also the business capital of the country.  Firms that had telephones were using the leading technology of the day.[4]  But being at the business and technological leading edge did not imply life-crushing work hours.

*  *  *  *  *


[1] Wray (1903) p. 77. James G. Wray was an engineer with the Chicago Telephone Company.  By 1907, Wray was Chief Engineer at the Chicago Telephone Company.  According to Wray’s paper, workday telephone traffic in the business district of Chicago began to rise at 7 a.m. and reached a maximum between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.  Telephone traffic dropped 40% below that morning maximum during the lunch hour from noon to 1 p.m.  Traffic then rose again to 80% of the morning maximum from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.  Traffic then soon declined:  “From 3 p.m. until 5 or 5.30 p.m. there will be a rapid decrease in the traffic load with an almost complete cessation of business at 6 p.m.”  See id. p. 76.  Time-of-day traffic curves for exchanges in Chicago in 1906 are available in a special telephone report delivered to the Chicago City Council in 1907.

[2] In 1902, workers in manufacturing industries in the U.S. averaged 58.3 hours per week.  Postal employees averaged 48 hours per week. See U.S. Historical Statistics, series D 765, D 776. Professional workers apparently worked fewer hours than other workers in the U.S. at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Clinton, Illinois (a small city) in 1976, the business telephone traffic profile seems similar to the business telephone traffic profile in the central business districts of major U.S. cities in 1902.  For the Clinton business traffic profile, see Park and Mitchell (1987) Fig. 2.

[3] Wray (1903) p. 78.

[4] The number of telephones in use in the U.S. was increasing rapidly from 1898 to 1902. In 1905, inner New York City (Manhattan and the Bronx) had a teledensity of 6.7 telephones per 100 persons.  That teledensity was relatively high for the time, but not world-leading.


Wray, J. G. (1903).  “Some Features of Telephone Traffic and their Effect on Service.” A paper read at a meeting of the Chicago Branch of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, May 19, 1903.

Park, Rolla Edward and Bridger M. Mitchell (1987).  Optimal Peak-Load Pricing for Local Telephone Calls.  Rand Report R-3404-1-RC.

identify theft losses compared to fire property losses

Identity theft is a major problem.  Among U.S. households, 6.6% had at least one member who was a victim of identity theft in 2007. These identity theft victims reported $14.6 billion in financial losses. For comparison, total direct property losses from criminal and accidental fires in buildings amounted to $10.6 billion in 2007.[1] Hence financial losses from identity theft were 38% greater than financial losses from structural fires.

Public spending on identity theft protection is much less than public spending on fire protection.  In the U.S., the main government agency that specifically addresses identity theft is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The total FTC budget for consumer protection in 2009 was $148 million.[2]  Law enforcement agencies also address identity theft.  Total spending on state and local police protection was $84 billion in 2007.  Probably considerably less than 1% of those resources are used to address identity theft. Total public spending on identity theft prevention is probably on the order of $500 million.  For comparison, state and local spending on fire protection amounted to $37 billion.[3] Hence public spending on identity theft prevention probably amounts to only 1% to 2% of public spending on fire protection.

Factors that help explain relatively low protective public spending per dollar of loss from identity theft:

  1. Identity theft is a boring public problem.  Fires make good copy for news reporting.
  2. Identity theft doesn’t cause bodily harm.  Fires caused 3,430 deaths and 17,675 personal injuries in 2007.[4]
  3. Identity theft is a relatively new problem.  Fires almost surely have been causing property losses since humans have been using fire.  Governments have institutionalized fire protection for over a century.

Under current laws, identity theft may be a more public problem than fires.  Identity theft victims don’t directly experience a large share of the financial losses from identity theft. A 2006 U.S. identity theft survey found that 59% of identity theft victims experienced no out of pocket expenses from identity theft.[5]  A large share of identity theft losses are nominally shifted to financial firms and ultimately diffused across the economy. Building insurance policies probably cover a large share of fire losses.  But building owners directly pay for these policies.  The level of insurance premiums relates personal cost to the risk of property loss from fire.  Of course, fires can spread from building to building.  But economies of scale among persons and criminal organizations perpetrating identity theft has a similar effect.

Public information infrastructure can strengthen identity protection.  Law enforcement efforts can reduce identity theft.  Greater public spending on identity protection seems to make sense.

*  *  *  *  *


[1] Identity theft losses calculated from U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Identity Theft Reported by Households, 2007 – Statistical Tables, Tables 1, 4.   Fire losses are from U.S. Statistical Abstract 2010, Table 375.

[2] FTC, FY 2010 Congressional Budget Justification Summary, p. 44.

[3] State and local government spending on police and fire protection are from U.S. Census Bureau, State and Local Government Finance, 2007.

[4] See U.S. Statistical Abstract 2010, Table 375.

[5]  Federal Trade Commission, 2006 Identity Theft Survey Report, p. 37, Fig. 13.