Work & Leisure

Credits: METC

As the weather grows cold how do you spend your free time? Watching the game, some retail therapy, drinks with friends, or maybe just catching up on the latest thriller. While it may seem like these activities are far removed from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they in fact have a lot in common with how Americans would have spent their leisure time back then. And just as professional sports, fashion and book publishing are massive industries today that support thousands of jobs, leisure activities in the past centuries also supported many jobs.

It may be your place of leisure, but it is my place of business. Take for example the tavern. For patrons, the tavern was a place to socialize, play games, gossip; but for the tavern keeper and his staff, it was a place of business and they depended on a regular clientele for their livelihood.  As a result, the leisure activities of some were supporting the financial   well-being of others.

What you call gardening, I call farming. How leisure was defined also varied by class. The upper class who had extensive financial resources had a lot of leisure time and could engage in the pursuit of high fashion or gardening. These men and women of leisure often employed members of the working class to assist them in their pursuits. So for an upper class man who was not dependent on the success of his new fruit trees, it was the leisure activity of gardening, but for the working class man who cared for those fruit trees, it was farming.

I’m in the business of leisure. During the nineteenth century some industries developed around providing entertainment for leisure hours and the material goods to support leisure activities, including the board game making  industry. As restrictions on observing the Sabbath relaxed, weekends became established as leisure time, and families began spending more time together at play activities. Board games, among other activities, saw a tremendous increase in business.

The mission of the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts is to enhance the understanding and appreciation of America's past by presenting and interpreting the history, culture and lives of ordinary people through educational programs, through preservation and stewardship of our collection, and through exhibition and demonstration of the trades and crafts practiced in New Jersey from its earliest settlement.  Website:


The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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