A scene I recall from many television shows, and a few movies, from the 1950s: the boss or a hard-working Madison Avenue management-type reaches into a desk drawer, pulls out a bottle of Johnny Walker, pours a glass, and drinks away. A visitor to an office may be offered a drink. I even recall scenes where executives have mini-bars in their office.
A serious question: were these scenes just someone’s perception of an idealized work environment from the era, or was drinking at a desk job really common in the 1950s and 1960s? Was it a New York City-only thing, or was it something seen nationally?
Lots of bigshot executives still have wetbars in their offices, though it isn’t anywhere near as common as it used to be.
A long time ago I saw offices in Australia in the 1960s that had liquor supplies in them. The idea wasn’t that you spent all day drinking, but that you had something ready to entertain visitors.
I keep some vodka, scotch, rum, and mixers as well as a case of beer at my office. It is not consumed during work hours, but there are some days when we sit around after work and knock back a few. My employees are all over 21, and I view recreational consumption of alcohol as therapeutic under certain circumstances.
Watch the new TV series “Mad Men” on AMC. The very things happen that you describe.
Times were a lot different then. It was acceptable for businesses to provide drinks to visiting clients during the workday. That doesn’t mean that the girls in the steno pool were knocking back at 10 in the morning.
Up until the late 1980’s, the office I work in used to have beer in the fridge. It wasn’t socially acceptable to pop open a cold one at say 10 am, but if you were working late on a project you could have a beer or two while you were working, and there were huge parties whenever a project was completed.
We had this exact question a while ago and some people didn’t believe it but it is true. People used to drink more hard alcohol in general in the late 1940’s - the late 1960’s. People actually used their liquor cabinets both at home and sometimes at work casually when any guests came over. Have you ever heard a “3 martini lunch”? Variations on that theme were real as well. The tradition hasn’t totally died out. Some tech companies in the Boston area have beer parties on Thursdays or Fridays and then people often go right back to work. This was more common in the .com era but it still happens. My mega-corp seems unusually lax about its official policy. The employee handbook says that alcohol consumed during work hours must be moderate.
In the late 80s, it wasn’t unusual for people in my office to have a couple of drinks together, over lunch, in the middle of the week. No clients or special events involved.
As late as about 2002, we still had a beer frig. Like someone else mentioned, you didn’t pop open a beer at 10am, but Friday afternoon, when it got slow? Sure.
I know the manager/head broker/whatever of a local Century 21 franchise has a small selection of liquor in his office, and drinks a little during work hours. He’s a character.
I was at the auto salvage yard this weekend, and the guy there was drinking vodka with sprite at noon. If the guy at the salvage yard does it in the 00s, I’m sure they did it in offices in the 50s.
Our employee manual is similar to Shagnasty’s - you’re not allowed to be impaired at work, and there’s a whole section dealing with how to get approval to obtain and serve alcohol for company-sponsored events.
Bankers can really slug it back at 5:01, I tells ya! A few years ago, when I was at a different bank, you could tell it was 5:00 on Friday as the sound of pop-tops and corks filled the building. Once in a while, somebody would break out the blenders for margaritas.
I don’t know what happened to society to cause me to feel so guilty as to not order beer at lunch on the occasions that we go out. What the hell use is eating in a restaurant if you can’t have a beer with your meal?
At my previous company, it was the rule that when on the road and charging expenses, you couldn’t claim for alcohol, not even just limited, personal consumption. Nothing’s said about that at my current employer, though. Now that I think of it, we had a special function at a nice place fairly early in the day with free beer, wine, and booze.
Man, if we don’t go to Middle Eastern place next time we do lunch, I’m gonna get me a beer!
Oh, another thought – I remember know reading that we’re not allowed to have alcohol on company property. I remember one time when someone came back from a vacation in Mexico this someone had to sneak in a requested bottle of tequila under the radar.
Oh, also at my previous employer it was dangerous to stay near the aisleways after lunch. I can’t tell you how many fork truck drivers I’d see rush in for a quick shot and rush out at the restaurant literally right in front of the main plant entrance. That’s kind of like in the workplace.
It’s not exactly as if everyone was drinking on the job in the 1960s, though. Drinking boiled down to three major categories.
Top executives. It was perk of the job to have a bar in the office. However, the liquor was mostly brought out to serve to guests, whether to make an impression, to soften them up for negotiations, or to butter them up with their importance.
Sales people. Liquor made sales calls easier. You bonded with the person, drank whatever the client drank, and generally tried to slip one over after the other was soused.
Creative types. It’s no coincidence that the show Mad Men is about the advertising world. For about the first and only time in its existence, advertising was glamorous in the 50s and 60s. The best theory I’ve heard for this is that the stock market and the accompanying money markets were in a prolonged slump for that period. Today the most creative minds are siphoned off to create billions with incredibly complex financial deals. Without that incentive they went where they could make the best money and have the most interesting career, which was advertising. Liquor was seen as essential to creativity.
Although alcohol was much more widespread generally in the workplace than today, it wasn’t everywhere. You probably didn’t see much of it at IBM, for example. You saw less of it in smaller cities than in bigger ones. You got away with much less of it the lower down the totem pole you were.
Being able to drink on the job was a symbol of power in a time when a CEO made 20 times the average wage. Today that symbol of power is executive salaries and benefits in a time when a CEO makes 400 times the average wage.
Money always triumphs. It’s only when money isn’t available (as in politics) that other symbols arise.
As an office worker in the UK in the 70s and 80s, it was common to go out to the pub for lunch for a couple of drinks and no one batted an eye. As we had a busy reception desk, whoever had to man it usually stuck to soft drinks. Some people went occasionally, some virtually every day…
An independent bookshop I also worked in at the time was right beside a pub and they used to let us take pints through so we could have a drink while serving. (Usually on hot summer days.) Our customers were jealous, rather than critical. Especially when the boss got champagne for us!
If you want the straight dope about workplace boozing during the golden age of hard liquor, go to moderndrunkardmagazine.com, scroll down to the bottom of the intro page and click on Juicing on the Job (possibly NSFW).
We usually had some vodka handy and there was always a carton of smokes on the fridge; just leave your 55 cents (or whatever it was) in the box. And this was in a teachers lounge circa 1975. I kid you not. If we were doing that I don’t even want to think what advertising places or newspapers were doing.
The times they are a-changing!
I was watching NCIS the other day and wondering how many directors of agencies keep as much liqour around as she seems to.
But then, I remembered a few years back. A Gov agency I was a contractor to kept a case of beer in the fridge pretty much at all times. And I never went to lunch with them that most of them didn’t have a couple of beers.
Well let’s see Alcoholics Anonymous was started in 1939 by a doctor and a lawyer…It’s interesting that in the Big Book - the AA book - the stories talk about employers in the 40’s and 50’s talking about giving people breaks for having too much drink etc…etc… back then it was a stint in an asylum, no programs or anything for alcoholics. There’s chapters to the empoyer, to the wives to the family…and they all start with phrases like: When you man/husband goes on a bender you should take close care of them so as not to embarrass them in their place of work or in social situations.etc…etc…
It wasn’t until alcoholics Anonymous type programs started to bring to people’s attention things like alcoholism in the work place and home…that paradigm changes actually happened.
Mid 80’s in San Francisco - I was fairly new on the job and chatting with one of the old-timers while getting some tea. He commented on the cold I was obviously treating, then offered me some whisky to add to the tea. Just a courtesy!
Same office took years to deal with one person who was obviously impaired every day after lunch - and dealt with it by telling him he couldn’t work/get paid after he went out. (He was disabled - in a wheelchair - as a result of an accident, so it may have seemed harder to confront him than others.) Other offices, same industry, it was accepted that some people would be “unavailable” after lunch.
My last boss was OK with some drinks/beer for an office party or special occasion, sometimes there would be leftover booze in the fridge that could be discretely consumed after 5. Any booze on the clock had to be consumed at the party, he didn’t like to see you at your desk with a beer, for example. He’d sometimes take me to lunch and a beer or 2 with lunch was OK. He always had a few bottles of booze from places like Korea and Japan in his office that customers would send, but never a fifth of regular booze in his desk drawer.