So Just Who Did Invent the Coffee Break?


One of the most confusing and intriguing components of coffee lore is just who did invent the coffee break? There are at least three distinct theories (or more correctly stories) as to when and how the coffee break came to be.

First, there is the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, an international organization that actually has taken credit for its invention. The Pan-American Coffee Bureau, which today would be called a lobbyist group, was an organization formed at an international conference held in Brazil in 1936 composed of representatives of Latin American coffee producing countries, and eventually including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela, and formed for the purpose of promoting coffee consumption in North American. For a couple of decades, the PACB produced a wealth of propaganda aimed at increasing coffee consumption in the US, including advertising campaigns and promulgating statistics on the rise of coffee consumption. Unfortunately, they were eventually called to task for using false data in their statistics which supported a nonexistent continued increase in the popularity of coffee consumption.

The Pan-American Coffee Bureau has taken credit for coining the term "Coffee Break" in 1952. In an ad campaign that year, they spent millions of dollars promoting the phrase "Give yourself a Coffee-Break—and Get What Coffee Gives to
You." They just might have coined the term, but it is clear that the act of stopping work and relaxing over a cup of coffee had been around for quite a while before 1952.

Second, is the World War II theory, promoted by author Mark Perdergrast in his epic history of coffee, "Uncommon Grounds". Perdergrast's theory is that the practice of the coffee break began in defense plants during World War II, when defense workers were give break time from work, break time during which they were provided high-octane caffeine-laden coffee, for a "jolt". Pendergrast states that while time off from work to drink coffee had been an unknown practice before WW II, by 1952, a poll of employers found that 80% were providing their workers that break time.
But, there is a third theory, one that dates back to the 19th century, and the little hamlet of Stoughton, WI, population (today) 12,611. This has HAS to be true, because the good folks of Stoughton celebrate the anniversary of the coffee break yearly at their Coffee Break Festival. Legend has it that a group of wives of Norwegian immigrants way back in the 1800s agreed to go to work for one Osmund Gunderson at his warehouse, sorting tobacco. They agreed, with the proviso that they all receive morning and afternoon breaks, when they could return to their homes and tend to their chores, and where they, conveniently, always had a pot of coffee hot on the stove.

We'll run with the Stoughton theory, and hopefully, one day we'll get to Wisconsin and spend a fine August day at the Coffee Break Festival.

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