SFH #139: A Short History on Coffee Breaks

A Tuesday tidbit ☕️

As was common in the wake of WWII, male factory workers that went to war were replaced with devoted women ready to step up for the moment. A necktie factory in Denver called Los Wigwam Weavers was a compelling case as the owner attempted to replace the young male workers with older men. Yet, they lacked the skill (particularly the dexterity) essential to produce the ties to the expected standards. The older male workers were quickly replaced with women who had the required skills to build the high-quality ties, but they were not meeting the stamina of the younger men. The owner went to these hard-working women to ask what they would need to pick up the pace and mitigate their fatigue. They suggested a short break for rest and coffee—one break in the morning and one in the afternoon. Two fifteen-minute breaks were granted, and the women were off to the races. 🐎

The workers who chose to partake in the breaks did as much work in six and a half hours as the men had done in eight. Realizing this greater output, the owner of the factory made the breaks mandatory. In the breaks, the workers could do anything they wanted, so long as it wasn't work; and of course, he provided all the free coffee needed. And the modern 'coffee break' was born! 🥳

In this modern world, we know a lot more about the science of how and why we should be taking work breaks. Ideally, we should stand up and move around for 30 to 60 seconds every 20 to 30 minutes, says organizational psychologist John Trougakos. We should also be taking an extended break of 10 -15 minutes every hour because we have only a limited capacity to concentrate for longer. Studies also suggest we should focus our breaks in the afternoon.1

Here's to breaks and coffee. 🎉

Here is Michael Pollan talking about caffeine and this coffee break story for a deeper dive. 📺