Birth of the American barista


Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Hortons — today there are coffee shops everywhere. Back in the 1870s, however, such establishments were rarely heard of.

Jim Powell, a good friend, recently sent me a reprint of the very first Farm Journal from March 1877. The Farm Journal was a monthly agricultural magazine that devoted to the farm, orchard, garden, and rural economy. Wilmer Atkinson, the first publisher, was a Quaker, farmer and journalist and made sure the magazine contained useful information for farmers and their wives.

The Farm Journal, which has been published ever since, was originally sent to farmers and other rural residents within a day’s ride of Philadelphia, where the corporate offices are still located.

Anyway, the original issue contained a story titled, “The Model Coffee House,” which was started in Philadelphia by Joshua L. Baily, a dry goods merchant.

First store opened

The reporter wrote, “Mr. Baily conceived the idea, that if we ask men to abandon their beer and whiskey, we must furnish them a substitute every way better. Hence he determined to establish a coffee house and supply all applicants with a cup of coffee and a roll at the mere price of a glass of beer.

“In October, 1874, he opened a small store at 15th and Market Streets and placed in charge thereof a woman as cook and waitress. A full pint of the best Java coffee was served, together with a roll, for five cents.

“Custom flowed in with marvelous rapidity until three more stores were added, and in place of one woman, a score were employed to serve the increasing number of patrons. Now there are 1,400 persons who daily lunch at this place, not simply on a roll and coffee, but a dozen other dishes are prepared and served in the best manner.

“This was called the Workingmen’s Coffee House. Being an astute business man and recognizing a good thing when he saw it led Mr. Baily to expand even further. Before long, Mr. Baily erected a new building on South Fourth Street and fitted it up in an admirable manner for its intended purpose.

“In June of last year this building was opened to the public and called the Model Coffee House. The main hall seats 218 persons, and about 2,400 people lunch here daily.

“Although originally intended to provide only a cup of coffee and a roll, the bill of fare now is greatly extended, and a hungry man for five or ten cents can feast to his satisfaction.

“No article costs more than five cents and one may order Irish stew, a dish of baked beans, a bowl of oatmeal or wheat mush with milk, dumplings, corned beef, custards, pies, soups, fruit in season, each five cents. Nothing is handed out in meager quantities, and it must be a famishing man, indeed, if ten or fifteen cents worth does not more than satisfy his cravings.

“The cooking is admirably done, and served by cleanly and obliging waitresses, and with exemplary dispatch.

“The Model is often thronged during the day with all classes of people merchants, bankers, editors, clerks, mechanics, working men, bootblacks the throng is always a genteel one, and rude or unbecoming behavior is unusual.

“Mr. Baily has been apprised of many cases where his Coffee Houses have been the means of rescuing from the drinking saloons persons who had been lured thereto and were on the rapid road to destruction, and we have no doubt he is doing a wonderful amount of good to the community. He says that he has received scores of letters from those who acknowledge themselves to have been benefitted, and fathers, mothers, and sisters have called to express their gratitude for the restoration of sons and brothers.

“We understand that the receipts at the counters cover all running expenses a gratifying fact. Our country friends, when in the city, may find no small amount of pleasure in calling and satisfying themselves of the merit of the bill of fare, and of the good work being done by Mr. Baily’s Model Coffee Houses.”

Another time

On another note, Horace Greeley, who was editor of the New York Tribune during the mid-1800s, is often credited with the advice “Go West, young man, go West,” although he often denied ever saying it.

In any event, the advice was often quoted, and the 1877 Farm Journal repeated it in the following paragraphs, which give us some idea of the prices of goods in those days — at least in Kansas.

“Go West! Yes, go to Kansas. If the grasshoppers do not overrun your farm, the prairie soil will yield a good crop; then you can send it to market and pocket the proceeds.

“You can get for butter choice, 16 to 18 cents per pound; butter, medium, 12 to 14 cents; eggs, per dozen, 18 to 20 cents; corn, per bushel, 25 cents; oats, 17 to 20 cents; wheat, $1.05 to $1.25; rye, 50 cents; sweet potatoes, 50 cents; hay, per ton, $3.50 to $4.50; chickens, per dozen, $2 to 2.25; chickens, dressed, 4 to 5 cents per pound; turkeys, per pound, 8 to 8 Ω cents; cabbage, per head, 10 cents; cheese, per pound, 12 to 15 cents; wood, per cord, $4.50 to $5. Go West, young man, go West!

“Just to compare those prices, here are the market rates for a few of the same crops back East in Philadelphia as given in the same paper. Prime Pennsylvania red and amber wheat, 52 cents to $1.56; Corn, 56 cents per bushel; rye, 75 to 80 cents; oats, 37 to 38 cents; prime timothy hay, $1.05 to $1.17 per ton and mixed, 90 cents to $1.05 per ton.”

Living nearly free. Farm land in Chester County, Pa, averaged $96.75 per acre at that time, while that in Kansas was probably free under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Interesting piece of history. Thanks, Jim!


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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