Isaac G. Blanchard

Isaac G. Blanchard was a printer and newspaper editor in Boston.

“Blanchard’s ‘Eight Hours,’ with its clear, radical claim…became the unofficial anthem of the movement for a shorter workday in the late nineteenth century. According to historian Philip Foner, it may have been the most popular labor song before the appearance of ‘Solidarity Forever’ by Ralph Chaplin…. In 1850, the typical workweek averaged about seventy hours. The earliest factory workers had campaigned for a ten-hour day, but it was not until after the Civil War that eight hours became a key unifying aim of labor organizations. Isaac G. Blanchard, a Boston printer and newspaper editor, first published ‘Eight Hours’ as a poem in his paper, Boston Daily Voice, in August 1866. The poem was republished as a song, with music written by the Rev. Jesse H. Jones, in the July 1878 issue of Labor Standard, at a time when the Knights of Labor were gathering strength and members. The focused nationwide push for the eight-hour day began in 1884 with a declaration by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions that ‘eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886,’ the first (unofficial) May Day. Blanchard’s poem, now a song, served as a rallying cry during the widespread agitation that preceded that day and the general strikes by hundreds of thousands of workers in multiple cities on May 1 itself. ‘Eight Hours’ stated the goal, made the case for it, and spurred those who embraced the cause…. As events unfolded, the movement was stymied by the repression that followed the Haymarket affair of May 1886.”

—Nicholas Coles and Janet Zandy, editors, American Working-Class Literature (2007)

Eight Hours