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The doctor in the break room

A look back to when New York department stores delivered employees’ babies and set broken bones

The doctor in the break room

The Lord & Taylor flagship store in New York (Mark Lennihan/AP)

A New York moment:

Visiting some of the tech startups here in “Silicon Alley” (I’m proud of learning that term recently, even though it’s been around for years), you’ll see offices providing free cold brew coffee on tap, free meals, and free yoga classes. Last year I attended Google’s barnburning annual party for its New York employees, involving free shrimp, elaborate sets, confetti cannons, and live bands.

But does Google offer an in-house surgeon? When it comes to benefits, New York department stores a century ago outdid the modern tech giants. Documents from the Museum of the City of New York show that stores like Lord & Taylor had their own small, in-house hospitals for their employees. Employee floors in department stores offered “emergency rooms to set broken limbs, perform surgery, and deliver babies.” Macy’s had a dental office with six dentists for employees at its 34th Street store. Stores also had libraries and classrooms where children of employees received education.

In other words, these department stores provided a significant safety net for their employees. The New York Times points out that modern corporate giants like Amazon, frustrated with the current healthcare situation, are starting to follow the trend of a hundred years ago: Some are forming their own healthcare company for their employees.

Worth your time:  

As Rome builds a new subway line, excavators keep finding archaeological marvels.  

This week I learned:

That criminals might be using Amazon’s self-publishing service to launder money.

A court case you might not know about:

Cities, counties, and states have filed almost 200 cases against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis. Camden, N.J.—which has dealt with a massive number of fatalities, as covered in last week’s Metro Minute—is the latest to file suit, but has taken a unique approach in its lawsuit. The city is challenging the drug companies under racketeering laws, typically used for cases involving organized crime.

Culture I am consuming:

I’m reading An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood by Neal Gabler (1988). The first section recounts the history of the handful of Eastern European Jews—generally from small villages and poor, splintered families—who established the five major film studios. It’s an incredible immigrant story. One anecdote I enjoyed in particular concerned Hungarian immigrant Adolph Zukor, who headed up Paramount Pictures. He distributed one of the first feature films in New York, a film of a passion play. Not only did this Jewish immigrant distribute a film on the passion of the Christ, but the local Catholic priest objected to his showing a depiction of Christ. Zukor convinced the priest to let it be shown. Life is funny.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org