The song “Everything Stops For Tea” was first performed by Scotsman Jack Buchanan and featured in the 1935 musical film Come Out Of The Pantry, which was set in New York.
In Great Britain, everything did stop for tea throughout the first half of the 1900s as British workers took their tea break. By 1900, tea was the drink of the working classes.
The provision of tea in the workplace was now recognized as almost essential to the employees’ welfare. In 1916, the Ministry of Munitions Health Committee stated in a booklet on Hours of Work: “An opportunity for tea is regarded as beneficial both to health and output.” When Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin addressed the Works Management Association in London in September 1940, he told his audience:
“I arranged with a great firm to carry out an experiment for me.… I asked them to adopt rigidly the hours I have set down in the circular I had issued; to give ten minutes break in the morning, ten minutes break in the afternoon, with refreshment.The men had to work till seven at night and then there was a very long journey home, so I asked the management to send round barrows of tea at six o’clock in the evening and to see the result …. Now when that experiment I asked for had been going on for a month, I asked the director of the firm if he wanted to give it up and he said, ‘Not on your life. I have made too much out of it because of the increased productivity.’”
Read more about tea’s impact on British and American culture in the 2014 edition of A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson.