ILO Century Project

A timeline of Historical Turning Points and ILO Milestones from 1700 to the present.

1712-01-01 08:39:32

Invention of the first practical steam machine

Together with other major technical innovations, the steam machine kicks off industrialization, first in England and later in continental Europe and the USA. This innovation changes the world of work and transforms society.

1838-01-01 08:39:32

Oliver Twist published

Charles Dickens’ famous novel – deemed one of the earliest social novels – addresses the underbelly of industrialism in nineteenth century England. Dickens, largely censorious of the Poor Law system of the time, speaks especially to the plight of young children, poignantly depicting the harsh conditions in which they are forced to work and live.

1840-02-23 07:29:49

Alsatian manufacturer Daniel Legrand, first advocate of an international labour legislation

Legrand appeals to European statesmen to address the abuses of the working population through intergovernmental negotiations. The social reform approach is later taken up by the founders of the ILO and its constituents.

1864-02-23 07:29:49

“First International” founded in London by Marx and Engels

The International Workingmen's Association, also known as the “First International”, is the first attempt to establish an international organization of workers (“Proletarians of all countries, unite!”). It fails in 1872, but by then the idea of international cooperation among workers to defend their interests has taken a firm hold.

1883-02-23 07:29:49

First social insurance laws adopted in Germany

German laws on disability, health and old age insurance stimulate welfare policies in other European countries and influence later the ILO’s activities with regard to social insurance and social security.

1890-01-25 00:44:08

Berlin Labour Conference

Fifteen European governments come together for the first time to discuss labour standards such as the regulation of child labour. The conference paves the way for further international meetings, but has little direct impact.

1891-01-25 00:44:08

Pope Leo XIII issues the Encyclical Rerum Novarum

Subtitled “On the conditions of labour”, the encyclical is the Catholic Church’s response to the misery of the working class, social conflicts and the rise of socialism. It is the basis of what will become a long standing relationship between the ILO, the Vatican and the Christian trade unions.

1900-01-25 00:44:08

The International Association for Labour Legislation (IALL) founded in Basel

This non-governmental organization, one of the ILO’s forerunners, tries to influence governments to adopt laws limiting night-work of women and prohibiting white phosphorus, a potentially dangerous chemical used in match manufacturing.

1901-01-20 08:07:42

Birth of the International Secretariat of National Trade Union Centres (ISNTUC)

Renamed in 1913, the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) is the first international trade union body. The IFTU plays a key role in the early years of the ILO. In 1945 it is dissolved and replaced by the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

1911-03-25 08:39:32

Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire in New York City

A tragic industrial accident on 25 March resulting in the deaths of 146 garment workers, nearly all of whom are young immigrant women.

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