Invention of the Coffee Break

Publication Year: 
1999

The vending machine helped facilitate the institutionalization of that most venerated America tradition, the coffee break. In fact the phrase was the 1952 invention of the Pan American Coffee Bureau. Supported by its $2 million a year budget, the bureau launched a radio, newspaper, and magazine campaign with the theme, "Give Yourself a Coffee Break--And Get What Coffee Gives to You." The bureau gave a name and official sanction to a practice that had begun during the war in defense plants, when time off for coffee gave workers a needed moment of relaxation along with a caffeine jolt. The extraordinary ad blitz also was picked up as a straight news story. "Within a very short space," Charles Lindsay, the manager of the bureau, wrote late in 1952, "the coffee-break had been so thoroughly publicized that the phrase had become a part of our language."

While work time off for coffee had been virtually unknown before the war, 80 percent of the firms polled in 1952 had introduced a coffee break. The Pan American Coffee Bureau used ads and fliers to encourage the spread of the coffee break beyond factories and offices. Hospitals instituted them. After Sunday worship services congregations met for a coffee break with their pastors. The bureau launched a "Coffee Stop" campaign on the nation's roads to encourage motorists to pull over every two hours for coffee as a safety measure. The slogan "Make That One for the Road Coffee" created a furor in the South, where it was interpreted as encouraging drunk driving. Preachers sermonized against the "One for the Road" campaign, citing it as an example of deteriorating national moral fiber. The bureau responded by changing the slogan to "Stay Alert, Stay Alive--Make It Coffee When You Drive."

Coffe Break Advertisement

Even General Dwight Eisenhower's presidential campaign got into the act, using the coffee break idea for its Operation Coffee Cup, in which a "coffee party" introduced Ike to voters "on a cheerful, intimate basis." As Look Magazine noted, the coffee social trend was spreading. "Coffee and dessert boost attendance at town meetings; coffee parties raise funds for a symphony orchestra; coffees join teas as vehicles for parent-teacher conferences, spurred by the ease of serving instant coffee to large groups." Now they don't have to bother with messy cream or milk. Instant Pream, a powdered milk product, provided the perfect tasteless mate to instant coffee. "No Waste, No Fuss," its ads proclaimed.

pp. 241-242 Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast (1999) First Edition

Images retrieved from Rogers Family Company Coffee & Tea Blog on July 29, 2014.

coffee break, ad, coffee
coffee break, coffee stop, coffee, ad
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