Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
Timeline History: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Wisconsin Bureau of Labor Statistics was established in 1883 and headquartered at the Capitol. Wisconsin became the 9th state to create a state agency to collect non-agricultural statistics. (The US Bureau of Labor Statistics was established in 1884.) The bureau was given authority to enforce laws regulating the employment of children and women, passed as early as 1867. The total budget for the Bureau was $2,000.

In 1884, the Bureau published its first labor statistics report. Safety related questions asked on the 1884 survey: "What height are your buildings; are they wood, brick or stone? Have you fire escapes? What kind? Have you apparatus for extinguishing fires? "


Jeremiah McLain Rusk

Frank Flowers
Labor Commissioner Frank A. Flower (1883 ? 1887)

Picture of Early Loggers
Early loggers

The Wisconsin State Militia was called to guard the Allis Reliance Iron Works in May 1886. The 1800's normally favored business interests over workers' collective actions. Labor Commissioner Flower stated in the 1883-84 Biennial Report "Strikes have been likened to war, but they also may be likened to boils which show the condition of the system. That it is deranged and the blood impure and a constitutional remedy is needed to drive the humors out".


1886 Labor Strike
1886 Labor Strike

Wisconsin's first safety law was an 1887 machine statute, which required fences or guards around gears, shafts, bull-wheels and pulleys.


Accident in a Machine Shop
"Accident in the Machine Shop"

New Factory inspectors began to enforce employment laws.

Legislation raised the minimum age of employment from age 12 to 13 for Wisconsin residents.

Commercial establishments were regulated by new state law.


William Dempster Hoard (1889-1891)
George Wilbur Peck (1891-1895)

Legislation passed to prohibit race discrimination in restaurants, inns and other public accommodations in Wisconsin.


William Henry Upham (1895-1897)
Edward Scofield (1897-1901)

Minimum age for employment was raised from age 13 to 14 for Wisconsin residents.


Beginning in 1867, labor groups secured laws to protect young workers. Such legislation fixed age limits, set educational requirements, restricted work hours and prohibited young children from working in industrial plants. The first work permit program was instituted in 1899.


The first public employment office in the state was established by the city of Superior.

Location of the first state-operated public employment offices: Milwaukee and Superior.


Robert Marion La Follette

Early Wisconsin Industrial Plant
Early Wisconsin Industry

Two more state-operated employment offices opened in Oshkosh and LaCrosse.


James O. Davidson

In the 1900's the Wisconsin legislature enacted laws to protect children in the workplace. In 1917, a centralized work permit system was created under the Industrial Commission.


Early Work Permit
Work permit example from 1904

First State Civil Service Law enacted; creates a three- member Civil Service Commission. Wisconsin becomes third state to establish a civil service system.

More information about Robert La Follette


Governor Robert M. La Follette
Governor Robert M. La Follette
The Founder and Leader of Wisconsin Progressivism

Legislature set the maximum hours of labor for children to 55 a week and adopted a list of dangerous occupations prohibited to children under 16.


Children Working in a Factory
Child Labor in Industry

The Street Trades Law was passed to regulate child labor, specifically, children selling newspapers in Milwaukee.

The first attempt at workers compensation legislation came in 1909. Senator Theodore W. Brazeau introduced a proposal to provide compensation insurance. The senate postponed the proposal indefinitely. The legislature did, however provide for a joint interim committee of 3 Senators and 4 Assemblymen to study such insurance.


Senator Theodore W. Brazeau

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