Panorama of Machine Co. aisle, Westinghouse Co. works - Copyright American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.; 23July1904; H48410.
— Library of Congress

Entrepreneurship held a pivotal role in the designation of coffee as the go to drink of choice of the American people. We have previously looked at the key factors of why coffee became so quickly and so deeply integrated in American culture on our blog post about "why Americans love coffee". We continue the thread here with a look on how coffee and industrialization went hand in hand for nearly 200 years.


Coffee means business

Many businessmen saw coffee's popularity as a great opportunity to increase their personal fortunes and legacy. In the mid-1800's, William H. Bovee founded The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills Company in California, where he produced coffee that was pre-roasted, ground and sealed in cans. The carpenter hired by Bovee to complete the construction of the Pioneer Steam mill was in fact James A. Folger in his younger years. According to Folgers Coffee history, upon completion of the mill, James left in order to invest his time in finding gold.

In 1864, John and Charles Arbuckle, two brothers from Pittsburgh, purchased Jabez Burns' newly invented self-emptying coffee bean roaster and began selling pre-roasted coffee in small paper bags. They named their coffee "Ariosa," and became notorious for providing it to the pioneers and cowboys of the American West. It was not long before James Folger followed the same tack, selling coffee to the gold miners of California. Folger and the Arbuckle brothers became an example for several other coffee producers, including Maxwell House and the Hills Brothers. However, this was not before, and probably due to the fact, he traded in both pioneer coffee and spices, which he distributed to every grocery store across his travels. Folger returned in 1865 and by 1872 he had bought his own coffee company, naming it as J. A. Folger & Co.

American innovation

"Office, Factory and Selling Force Hills Bros. 1882" Photo: San Francisco Museum and Historical Society

"Office, Factory and Selling Force Hills Bros. 1882"

Photo: San Francisco Museum and Historical Society

By the early 1900's American Industry produced an incredible range of easy and convenient products including coffee.

Coffee brands like Folgers and the Maxwell House quickly became incredibly well known across the entire United States and inspired other business men to innovate and compete. One of the most significant innovations about coffee is attributed to Austin and R.W. Hills, two shipbuilders who founded the Hills Bros. Coffee Company. In 1900, R.W. Hills invented the process of vacuum packaging. The procedure removed air from coffee tins, which resulted in fresher beans and a final product of a higher quality and distinct aroma. Hills’s innovative procedure for packaging coffee is effectively the grandfather of modern coffee packaging.

In 1903 the Japanese-American Satori Kato, living in Chicago at the time, applied his dehydration techniques for soluble tea to coffee beans. He acquired the first US patent for "coffee Concetrate and Process of Making Same" (US Patent No 735,777- August 11, 1903) thus introducing to the world "a process for creating coffee concentrate that embodies all the pleasant and desirable properties of coffee beans in a perfectly pure and unadulterated state" in other words. instant coffee. 

The art of the coffee break

According to the National Coffee Association, back in 1902, "Employees of the Barcolo Manufacturing, now known as Barcalounger, [started] taking 15 minute, mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee [breaks] with the approval of the management." Barcolo included the breaks in the employees’ benefit packages or provided coffee for free.The Larkin Company claims that it was the one that preceded in providing coffee to its employees, when in 1901 it began permitting coffee breaks in between work hours.

No matter its origin, the habit of coffee breaks represented a social change in the labour conditions of several companies, which started focusing on improving their staff’s work-life. The Larkin Company and the Barcolo Manufacturing Company were truly ahead of their times when they acknowledged the positive effects such breaks had on their workers. The coffee breaks enhanced the workers’ morale, allowing them to congregate, bond with each other, and improve productivity.


Join us again on the next entry when we look at more reasons why Americans love coffee so much and expand on the story of America becoming enamoured with it through the 20th century.


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