WNY's All Time Greatest Workplace Innovation: The Coffee Break
There is a dispute about which American workplace first initiated the custom of allowing employees to take regular time-outs, but the good news is that both of the candidates were located in Buffalo. It was either the Barcolo Manufacturing Company in 1902, or the Larkin Company in 1901. Barcolo eventually became Barcalounger, and is now based in North Carolina; Larkin, the company that made the fortunes of Darwin Martin, is defunct. According to Wayne Stephens, CEO of Barcalounger, the Barcolo employees were given mid-morning and afternoon breaks of about fifteen minutes, but they had to buy their own coffee. At Larkin, according to Canisius professor Howard Stanger, employees were given free coffee, but it is unclear if they had specified free time to drink it.
Sources: “The Coffee Break,” 12/2/02, npr.org. Thanks to Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society librarian Cynthia Van Ness.
Elizabeth Licata is the editor of Buffalo Spree.
Update: In the first comment below, Howard Stanger, professor at Canisius College, contributes excellent insight regarding the history of the coffee break.