I spend a lot of time wondering about things. For example, I was wondering this morning about who invented the coffee break as I was pouring my morning coffee. How did it come about that businesses gave their employees two breaks a day to essentially have a cup of joe? In this day of computer searches you can find that out pretty quickly by asking Google. ( I guess you could ask Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, Aol, Blekko.com, Wolframalpha, DuckDuckGo, WayBackMachine, or ChaCha.com too. Those are the top ten internet search engines in order.) Turns out the Barcalo Manufacturing Company gave their employees, in 1902, fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon to drink coffee.
So coffee breaks, mostly just called “breaks” now because of the implied dangers of drinking coffee, have been around since 1902. A year earlier The Larkin Company, in Buffalo, NY, gave their employees free coffee, but not a specified time to drink it. So the invention of the coffee break goes to Barcalo Manufacturing, also, at the time, based in Buffalo, NY. And what did Barcalo Manufacturing make?..Barca Loungers, the first mass-produced recliner chair. Edward J. Barcalo, founder, also holds a patent for the invention of the bed spring. U.S. Patent no 719,685. And, get this, he also had patents for canned synthetic snow and mint-flavored ice cream. He started the business making tools, went into furniture, then canned sythetic snow and made ice cream. Wrap your head around that.
But here’s the thing, they didn’t do it to benefit their employees necessarily. It was pretty well assumed that a cup of coffee essentially wakes up a sluggish worker and makes them more productive. In fact, a report done in 1961 by UCLA, confirmed that drinking coffee during the work day boosts an employee’s work performance. Barcalo and Larkin were decades ahead of their time.
That, expectedly, led me to wonder how we got to calling a cup of coffee a cup of “joe?” There doesn’t appear to be a verifiable theory after my extensive five minute search. Of the two most promising theorems, I like the idea that “joe” refers to the common man, and a cup of joe is the common man’s drink. You know, like, “GI Joe” for the common soldier, and “Joe College,” and “Joe Blow.” Other theories abound, so you can search and find the one that you like.
I don’t wonder about important things very much, if you were wondering. Most of my cranial storage is used for trivial things like who invented the coffee break. WTF.