Modern clockwatchers treasure their lunch break, but there was a time it didn’t exist at all. In an interview with Edible Geography, Laura Shapiro, co-curator of the New York Public Library’s Lunch Hour NYC exhibit, explained how the lunch hour evolved in New York City:
“Lunch came into its own — it really acquired the size and shape and substance that it has in America today — in New York. New York is emblematic, arguably, of large North American manufacturing cities — it has all the conditions that make America different from the Old World in terms of speed and work and the arrangement of life. In New York, the focus of people’s lives is work, and lunch is the meal that was just made to fit into the industrial, urban work day.”
As the first meal eaten outside the home, workers wanted their lunch cheap and fast. The idea was, get in and get out. Drugstore lunch counters and Automats cropped up, followed by soda fountains, sliced wrapped bread and spreadable peanut butter.