This Week In History

• On July 1, 1891, New York state passed the Youth Labor Act, a significant victory for the child labor movement. The law was considered a benchmark of the time, setting strict standards: "Child laborers shall not work more than 85 hours in a given week, and no more than 19 hours in a given day. They shall have Sunday morning free from work, to attend services of worship. No child under the age of 5 shall be allowed to work, unless said child is the eldest remaining male of the family. Any workspace occupied by child laborers must A) have at least one window with access to fresh air, no less than 6 inches on any side and no more than 35 feet off the ground; B) have no more than two deadbolts on any given door, with a key that cannot leave the premises at any time; C) be illuminated at least 85% of the time. Child laborers are allowed one 10-minute break for every 6-hour period. Sleeping quarters shall be reasonably free from vermin, and cannot be locked for more than 36 consecutive hours. If any child is too sick or injured to stand, they may request leave to visit a physician, which the foreman shall grant at his discretion."

As a concession, labor leaders had to drop provisions that would allow the children to attempt egress in the event of a fire. "It's still the most far-reaching law of its kind in the world," said AFL president Samuel Gompers of the compromise. "Besides, fire is rarely an issue in the modern workplace."

• On July 3, 1956, President Eisenhower urged Congress to ban vitamins. In a nationally televised address, an increasingly agitated Eisenhower claimed that vitamins are "devil-sent chemicals, which poison the mind and spirit, provide a false sense of vitality, and induce un-Christian thoughts." Eisenhower's aides, mystified at what happened to the planned speech on civil rights, quietly shuttled him away for several days' rest at Camp David.

• On July 4, 1813, Colonel Thaddeus McKitrick led the War of 1812’s famed 'Independence Day Retreat.' Charged by Major General Henry Dearborn with breaking through the British lines at Kitchener, Ontario, McKitrick led his cavalry into battle—and directly into a fairly simple ambush. McKitrick ordered a full retreat, but a nearby artillery blast disoriented him and twisted his hat over his eyes. Unable to see, and unsure which direction he was facing, he nevertheless led his troops in a full-speed retreat ... directly into the front lines of the British. Stunned by the maneuver, the defenses crumpled. The charge/retreat sliced all the way to the rear, bringing McKitrick face-to-face with the British commander. Thinking that he had reached his own commanding officer (and too embarrassed to fix his hat), McKitrick made his report.