On June 4, 1912, Massachusetts became the first state to enact a minimum wage law, but it applied only to women and children. A commission was established to determine the minimum wage, but violators of the law faced only the minor penalty of being "outted" in the newspapers, and even that penalty was later thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, the wording of the law carried a lot of "bite," saying that whenever wages “are less than the cost of living and the reasonable provision for maintaining the worker in health, the industry employing her is in receipt of the working energy of a human being at less than its cost, and to that extent is parasitic.”

Most state minimum wage laws were systematically invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that they violated the Contract Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

A federal minimum wage of 25 cents was instituted as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which survived all legal challenges.