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June 20, 2024 10 mins

Today's curious tour will teach us a bit of entertaining--and educational--American history.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Nke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales are
right there on display, just waiting for us to explore.
Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Speaker 1 (00:36):
If you work as a food server in a restaurant
or ever have, you can expect a typical customer interaction
to go something like this. The customer arrives, they eat
their meal, and then you take them their bill. When
they pay, they hopefully leave you a nice tip. And
then finally you clear the table of any remaining dishes,
wipe off the table, and reset it for the next customers.

(00:57):
After your shift, you count up all the tips you earned.
Hopefully it's a good amount, because other than that, your
employer probably only pays you a couple of dollars an hour,
and there's a whole history behind that. The history of
tipping in the United States is actually complex and controversial.
Its origins can be traced back to medieval Europe, when
the feudal system dictated that wealthy masters employed servants and

(01:21):
paid them in tips. This practice continued in various forms
across Europe and eventually made its way to America. Following
the Civil War, Americans who traveled to Europe and European
immigrants brought the custom back to the States. However, not
everyone welcomed this practice with open arms. In fact, many
found it offensive and un American people believed tipping was

(01:44):
insulting and that it allowed employers to shirk their responsibility
to pay fair wages. One such critic was William Howard Taft, who,
during his presidential campaign in nineteen oh eight, was hailed
as the champion of the anti tip movement. He prided
himself on never tipping his barber, reflecting a sentiment shared
by many who saw tipping as unjust. In nineteen fifteen,

(02:06):
the anti tipping sentiment led to the passing of laws
in states like Iowa, South Carolina, and Tennessee which aimed
to abolish tipping altogether. Even Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky joined
the fray, refusing to tip and arguing that tipping allowed
capitalists to exploit the workers. But despite this resistance, opposition
to tipping waned over time. A nineteen forty two Supreme

(02:29):
Court ruling argued that employees had the exclusive right to
their own tips, preventing employers from forcing those employees to
share them with other workers. However, this ruling did little
to address the underlying issue of low wages for tipped workers.
In nineteen sixty six, Congress introduced the concept of the
tip credit, which allowed employers to pay tipped employees a

(02:51):
subminimum wage under the assumption that the tips would make
up the difference. This is why, even today, the federal
minimum wage for tipped employees remains as low as two
dollars and thirteen cents per hour. Interestingly, while tipping originated
in Europe, countries like France have long abandon the practice.
There's a lot of debate these days about whether the

(03:12):
US should do the same thing. After all, American people
contested tipping as soon as the practice arrived here. But
here's the thing. The people who opposed tipping didn't oppose
it for all types of workers. You see, how tipping
spread first through the US is darker and more complicated
than tourists and immigrants simply introducing a concept. Let's go

(03:33):
back to the post Civil War era. Millions of formerly
enslaved people found themselves, without land, without education, and without
employment opportunities. Restaurant owners began hiring them as workers, often
paying them nothing and expecting them to rely solely on
the tips from the customers as income. And the restaurant
industry wasn't the only one taking advantage of people like this.

(03:55):
Another example is a guy named George Pullman who specifically
hired black back Southern men as porters for his Pullman
Car company. These workers received inadequate wages and relied heavily
on tips to survive. The prevailing racism of the time
justified this exploitation, perpetuating the notion that it was acceptable
for black workers to rely on tips while white workers

(04:18):
deserve steady, livable wages. Even with the establishment of the
first federal minimum wage law as part of the New
Deal in nineteen thirty eight, restaurant workers were excluded, further
entrenching the reliance on tips for income, and this exclusion
codified the practice of paying workers solely through tips, cementing
its place in American restaurant culture forever. Many people don't

(04:41):
like to tip workers because they think that their employers
should just pay them a decent wage in the first place. However,
restaurant owners argue that in order to do that, they
would have to raise all the menu prices. There's no
telling where this debate will lead us. Restaurant culture has
changed so much over the years, but hopefully there's even
more to come. In the years following the Revolutionary War,

(05:17):
the growth of this new nation skyrocketed. People started leaving
the more populated cities on the east coast to explore
and settle territories elsewhere, and not just out west either.
Mainz population ballooned from about fifty six thousand to over
three hundred thousand by eighteen twenty. Now, by this time,
the original thirteen colonies had expanded to include states as

(05:38):
far west as Missouri and Arkansas. Things were moving fast,
and it was up to cartographers to keep up with
it all. But no two maps were the same. Map
making was at art as much as it was a science,
and there was a heavy dose of politics involved too.
You could take a map of the same part of
the country drawn by two different individual map makers and

(05:59):
they would show you shockingly different results, which was why
in eighteen twenty two, the best way to get the
lay of the land, so to speak, was to see
it for yourself. That's when two Connecticut business men, Frederick
and Roe Lockwood, started giving tours of the United States.
Their father, Lambert, had made his living as a bookstore
owner in Bridgeport, but his sons, wanting more, moved to

(06:21):
New York City sometime during the eighteen tens, and several
years later they came up with their big money making idea.
Here's how it worked. They would offer customers the ability
to see the country, but only if they could prove
themselves first. It was a kind of contest in which
travelers would be quizzed on the names of cities in
each state. Sometimes they would be asked about the local populations,

(06:43):
and they could only progress to the next location if
they answered it correctly. Whoever made it to New Orleans
by getting all the answers right won. But here's the thing.
There was no cash prize or free trip for the winner,
only bragging rights because the Lockwood brothers weren't travel agents
or did they guide anyone across the country. They were
book publishers. They had started out by publishing titles from

(07:06):
foreign countries before moving on to religious texts, but then
in eighteen twenty two they branched out into a new
industry entirely so new, in fact, that by all accounts,
they started it all. They released a board game. It
was called The Traveler's Tour of the United States, and
it was designed to teach players about America's changing geography.

(07:27):
The board game was printed on wood and relied on
a numbered teetotem or spinner to determine how pieces moved.
Dice were not allowed because they were considered tools for gambling.
As many as four players could engage at one time.
According to the official rules and I quote, the numbers
commenced at Washington and end at New Orleans. The Traveler,

(07:47):
arriving at New Orleans first, wins the game. On the
opposite side of the game board was a list of rules,
as well as information about each state on the map.
This included its name, what it was known for, and
its estimated population. The Traveler's Tour through the United States
was sold around Christmas time, even though many New Yorkers
back then didn't celebrate Christmas the way we do. The

(08:09):
tradition of visiting family and exchanging gifts often occurred around
New Year's Day. This explains the eighteen twenties newspaper advertisement
the Brothers published. When their game was released, it read
Valuable New Year Presence. The game was a big enough
hit that it spawned two sequels, including one named Traveler's
Tour through Europe and another titled Traveler's Tour around the

(08:31):
World Now for a really long time. Historians believe that
the first American board game ever produced was an eighteen
forty three Christian morality game titled The Mansions of Happiness.
It had been adapted from an English board game, one
in which the player navigates a series of vices and
virtues on their way to that thing in the title
The Mansion of Happiness. But after a little bit of research,

(08:54):
Traveler's Tour revealed itself as the prototype for all American
board games going forward, and it held onto that title
for a long time. It would be another sixty one
years before another land based game, called The Landlord's Game
would make its way into the public Created by Elizabeth
Maggie in nineteen oh four, it was a not so
subtle illustration of how the wealthy stayed wealthy by buying

(09:17):
up properties and forcing everyone else off the board. Sound familiar, Well,
that's because The Landlord's Game went on to inspire the
creation of another game, Monopoly. But even though Monopoly has
withstood the test of time, it lacks one thing that
the travelers tour had in abundance, a whole lot of homework.

(09:39):
I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet
of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
The show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership
with how Stuff Works. I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television show,

(10:02):
and you can learn all about it over at Theworldoflore
dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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