Rey Ainé Linen Manufacturer

Entrance to Rey Ainé factory, 1909

The following is transcribed from Labor in Europe, 1884 - 1885. This section was written by the US Consul to Belgium (see further notes at the end). I have left most of the text as it was written.

The maximum, minimum, and average wages paid the various classes of mechanics, laborers, and employés outside of the large manufacturing establishments in this district, per week of sixty hours, will be found in the herewith inclosed tables; but as the chief industries of the district as well as of the entire kingdom are carried on by large and thoroughly organized companies who, in order to secure competent and continuous labor from their workmen, make special provision for their wants; the rates of wages indicated in these tables do not by any means embrace all the compensation received by a great proportion of the working classes. By these various plans of organizing labor manufacturers here generally obtain from their workmen the most efficient service and at the same time secure to them not only regular and reasonably good wages, but a pension after a given number of years service and many other advantages both to themselves and their families that no independent workman could secure. To illustrate this mode of employing labor I will here give its chief features in a number of large establishments of different manufacture, personally visited for the purpose of obtaining reliable information on the subject.


The first of these visited was that of Mr. Rey Ainé at Ruysbroeck near Brussels the largest linen manufacturer in this kingdom employing in his various establishments an average of nearly 3,000 men and women and whose annual exports to the United States as indicated by the invoices sent to this office amount to from 800,000 to 1,000,000 francs.

In this establishment 3 per cent of the wages of all workmen is retained by the proprietor for the purpose of creating what is known as the invalid and pension fund and this entitles every employé in case of sickness to the daily attendance of a physician during his or her illness free of charge. Invalids also receive half of their wages during their illness and when convalescent are furnished with meat and wine according to the prescription of the physician

Women employés giving birth to children also receive the gratuitous attention of a physiciau as well as every other care their case requires. When a married workman dies his widow receives during three years one third of the wages of her deceased husband if he has been less than ten years in service and half of his wages if he has served over ten years. The director at his discretion can continue this assistance longer than the above three years to widows with children and generally in such cases the pension is paid until the children can earn their own living. A pension of 30 francs $5.79 per month and for life is paid to all invalid workmen after fifteen years' service.

Mr. Rey Ainé buys at wholesale the following merchandise all of the first quality. Coal, flour, rice, sugar, coffee, chicory, cocoa, pepper, salt, bread, potatoes, bacon, ham, lard, butter, eggs, petroleum and in general everything workmen are in need of excepting clothing. He sells this merchandise to his workmen by adding to the cost price from 3 to 5 per cent.

This profit pays the employés in charge of the store and if any balance ia left it is kept as a reserve fund to serve in ease of a sudden augmentation in the price of articles of first necessity to workmen in order that he may continue to sell these articles to them at the old price.


An employé of the establishment gives lessons of an hour and a half every evening in reading writing arithmetic history and geography to the boys of the factory until they are sixteen years of age. In this school there is also a savings bank where each scholar of the school can deposit the savings he wishes to make. He can do this every fifteen days through the teacher who deposits it in the treasury of the establishment in the scholar's name and to encourage economy and saving Mr. Rey Ainé gives 10 per cent interest on all savings under 300 francs and over that sum 7 per cent until the scholar arrives at the age of twenty years. After twenty the young workman deposits his money in the general workmen's bank described below. The director very often assists at the evening lessons of the school and often gives the boys good advice upon honest and moral conduct

Sisters of the Sacred Heart are paid by Mr. Rey Ainé to instruct and take care of the young children of the workmen. For this purpose he has appropriated two buildings and the average number of scholars in them is about 350 nearly all children of workmen in his factory.


Every workman of the factory can deposit his economies in this bank and receive an annual interest of 5 per cent for his money. This money will be returned to him on demand. Any workman who has already in the bank a certain sum say about 1,000 francs may obtain a loan of the money necessary to build a house for himself. This loan is made returnable by installments paid every fifteen days. At Ruysbroeok the chief seat of this manufacture there are already thirty workmen who have built their own houses in this manner

Eighty houses of from three to six rooms and with small gardens attached belong to this gentleman and are rented at half the ordinary price to meritorious workmen of his factory for say from 5 to 10 francs per month for each house. The hygienic care of these houses is superintended by the director who has a special watchman under his orders for this purpose and who daily inspects them.

For the purpose of encouraging temperate habits amongst the workmen there is also connected with this establishment a kind of literary society of which the director is president It meets in a special hall every Sunday to read books and newspapers and to indulge in singing and other proper amusements. It's present total membership is 165.

The wages in the above table are per week.

This was about 20 years before Hugh emigrated to Belgium. Ruysbroeck is today Ruisbroek, which is south of Brussels in Flanders and just a short distance from Forest where Hugh and his family lived. Whether he worked in Ruysbroeck or in another factory is unknown.

Child labour was common, as the photo shows, and with a work week of supposedly 60 hours, I'm not sure how the boys could do that and also spend an hour and a half in school each night.
Brian Rodgers - July 30, 2016
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