What did a factory worker eat, in 1905?

What did a factory worker eat, in 1905?


Every day we open the newspaper, or any other source of information, and it says our diet is rubbish. That we shouldn’t eat this and that, but instead, something and something else. And more times than not, this truth changes the next day. Everything that was great is now toxic, and vice versa.

For those of you who think this is a modern day concern, we can argue that that’s not really true.

The concern over food and the war of diets comes from far behind. Let’s see, just by curiosity, what  male and a female factory workers ate in the early 20th century.

An article in the Enciclopedia Prática (Milhões de Coisas) published in 1906 [1] refers a study undertaken in Paris, in 1905, by Professor Landouzy and Marcel Labbé, where the diets of 100 Parisian factory workers and employees were scrutinized.

“Here, for example, is how a 37 year old blacksmith feeds himself, and we must consider that this labour is very fatiguing. At 8:30 am, 150 grams of bread and half a liter of wine; at 11 am, two absinthes; at midday, 150 grams of bread, 100 of meat, 120 of vegetables, three quarts of a liter of wine, and coffee with spirits; at 6 pm, two chalices of absinthe; at 7 pm, soup, 100 grams of bread, 100 of meat, 70 of vegetables and three quarters of a liter of wine, and one liter at night.

In sum, during the day he ingests 400 grams of bread, 200 of meat, 170 of vegetables, 150 grams of absinthe, 3 liters of wine and 40 centiliters of 50º alcohol, which represents a total of 4.600 calories for 900 réis (Portuguese coin during the monarchy).


The diet of the female factory worker is no less defective. She eats twice a day, 250 grams of bread, 170 of meat, 80 of salad, 15 of vegetables, and 2.5 deciliters of wine. All this does not cost her more than 160 réis, but only nourishes her with only 1.400 calories. A woman in these conditions, with a weight of 55 kilos, should be given 2.090 calories.”

In sum, the authors were very concerned with the astronomical amount of alcohol in the male worker’s diet, which is in fact very unbalanced… and expensive! In the case of the female worker, the authors worry about the caloric deficit in this diet, considering such strenuous work.

In today’s mindset (and of early 20th century doctors), consuming 3 liters of wine is already preposterous, but if we add another 150 ml of absinthe and somewhat more of spirits, then it’s all gone downhill. 

It’s curious to see the centenary reflection of our contemporary society’s concerns. We think it’s also interesting to look behind and see the eating habits of before.

Someday, our distant descendants will look at us and our diets with the same curiosity.

[1] Various authors (1906) Enciclopédia Prática. Volume IV. Lisbon: Typographia Lusitana-Editora

7 replies on “What did a factory worker eat, in 1905?

  • Marcie

    That is so much alcohol in a workday! Especially if the worker is operating machinery in a factory! And as a woman, I can’t imagine doing such physical work without enough calories to fuel me. Very interesting!

  • Aisha Sylvester

    This was an interesting read…I’ve never thought about the average diet of those who came so many years before us but it really is in stark contrast to what is considered the norm today. Now I’m extremely curious to think what our distant descendants will think about what we’re consuming on a daily basis…

  • EG III

    Such an interesting look at history. One has to wonder how the men were even able to function after consuming so much alcohol in one day!

  • fouronaworldtrip

    wow! They had to be wasted at all times… and probably drinking first thing in the morning again to fight the hung over 😀 But more seriously, that is very interesting how eating habbits changed over the century and the total unawareness of how booze is damaging your health… I am quite sure that it had a major influence on the high mortality rate back then.

  • Louiela

    Finding faults is very common nowadays, not only with what we intake but with everything… This study about what a factory worker eat in 1905 may serve as an eye opener for all of us to be very careful in what we eat,,, so if the coming generation will ask “what a traveler eat in 2017” they’ll find an answer which is beneficial and good for health…


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