Buffalo Innovation: A Perk Up to the Work Day

Coffee.

It’s what we drink to wake us up in the morning; to keep us awake at 2 in the afternoon. Whether you prefer your cup of Joe from a Folgers can or Starbucks, there’s a type for you. And, if you have ever grabbed a cup at work, you can thank a couple of Buffalo companies at the turn of the 20th century.

According to the National Coffee Association, back in 1902, “Employees of Barcolo Manufacturing, now known as Barcalounger, [started] taking 15 minute, mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee [breaks] with the approval of management.” Barcolo included these breaks in employee benefit packages, and free coffee for employees was listed in the company’s expenses.
But just like most invention stories, there are individuals who have alternative beliefs. If you were to ask someone such as Canisius College professor Howard Stanger, or Entrepreneur.com, you’ll hear that it’s not Barcolo Manufacturing who should receive recognition, but rather, another Buffalo company, the Larkin Company. Said Stanger, “NPR interviewed me in 2001 and stated, without much evidence, that the Barcolo Company of Buffalo first offered coffee to its employees in 1902. From my extensive archival research on the Larkin Company, I replied that it offered employees free coffee in 1901. At least locally, I believe, that Larkin might be the first company to do so.”
No matter its origin, the coffee break’s creation represented a social change in the workplace, as companies were beginning to focus on improving the work-life of employees. The Larkin Company and Barcolo Manufacturing were ahead of their time and recognized the positive effects such a break had on their workers. These short breaks boosted morale, allowed employees to congregate and bond, and perhaps most important for the company, improved productivity, as employees were given a jolt of caffeine during that afternoon lull.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that the idea took off, as companies all over the country began implementing these 10 to 20 minute breaks. In 1952, the Pan-American Coffee Bureau launched an ad campaign, urging consumers to “Give Yourself a Coffee-Break – and Get What Coffee Gives to You.” The rest, as they say, is history. Companies began designating specific areas and set times for coffee breaks, and some states, such as California, even went so far as to legally mandate coffee breaks for all employees. Now, coffee goes hand-in-hand with business, and it’s hard to think of one without the other.