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The Itching Palm, A Study of the Habit of Tipping in America, a non-fiction book by William R. Scott

Chapter 4. Personnel And Distribution

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The Itching Palm is not limited to the serving classes. It is found among public officials, where it is particularized as grafting, and it is found among store buyers, purchasing agents, traveling salesmen and the like, and takes the form of splitting commissions. There are varied manifestations of the disease, but whether the amount of the gratuity is ten cents to a waiter or $10,000 to a captain of police, the practice is the same.

This is a partial list of those affected:

Bath attendants
Cab drivers
Door men
Elevator men
Garbage men
Mail carriers
Pullman porters
Rubbish collectors
Steamship stewards
Theater attendants

The foregoing list is not offered as a complete roster of those who regularly or occasionally receive tips. Nearly every one can think of additions, and at Christmas the list is extended to include money gifts to policemen, delivery men and numerous others.


At the last Census, in 1910, there were 38,167,336 persons in the United States, out of a total population of ninety-odd millions, who were engaged in gainful occupations, that is, who worked for specified wages or salaries. Of this number, 3,772,174 persons were engaged in domestic or personal service, or practically ten per cent. of the industrial population.

This means that in round numbers 4,000,000 Americans of both sexes and all ages were engaged in the lines of work specified in the foregoing list, with certain additions as mentioned. These are the citizens who profit by the tipping practice.

Since 1910 the growth in population to one hundred millions, and the steadily widening spread of the tipping practice will increase the beneficiaries of tipping to 5,000,000. An idea of the relative distribution of the total may be obtained from the statistics of fifty leading cities. The numbers represent the tip-taking classes in each city.


Albany 8,000
Atlanta 23,000
Baltimore 48,000
Birmingham 16,000
Boston 61,000
Bridgeport 5,200
Buffalo 25,000
Cambridge 7,500
Chicago 135,000
Cincinnati 30,000
Cleveland 31,000
Columbus 14,000
Dayton 6,500
Denver 17,000
Detroit 26,000
Fall River 4,000
Grand Rapids 5,500
Indianapolis 19,000
Jersey City 14,000
Kansas City 24,000
Los Angeles 26,000
Lowell 5,500
Louisville 23,000
Memphis 19,000
Milwaukee 22,000
Minneapolis 19,000
Nashville 15,000
New Haven 9,000
New Orleans 37,000
New York 400,000
Newark 17,000
Oakland 11,000
Omaha 10,000
Paterson 5,000
Philadelphia 105,000
Pittsburgh 41,000
Portland 17,000
Providence 14,000
Richmond 15,000
Rochester 13,000
St. Louis 56,000
St. Paul 16,000
San Francisco 44,000
Scranton 6,000
Seattle 19,000
Spokane 7,000
Syracuse 9,000
Toledo 9,500
Washington 43,000
Worcester 9,000

In all other cities, towns and hamlets there are proportionate quotas to bring the grand total to 5,000,000. Any estimate of the daily tipping tribute for the whole country necessarily is only an approximation, but $600,000 is a conservative figure. At this rate the annual tribute is around $220,000,000.


Taking New York with its 400,000 persons who profit from tipping, the leading classes of beneficiaries are as follows:

Barbers 20,000
Bartenders 12,000
Bellboys 2,500
Bootblacks 3,500
Chauffeurs 12,000
Janitors 25,000
Manicurists 4,500
Messengers 1,500
Porters 15,000
Waiters 35,000

The tipping to these and other classes varies both in amount and regularity. Waiters and manicurists in the better-class places receive no pay from their employers and depend entirely upon tips for their compensation. Barbers and chauffeurs are classes which receive wages and supplement them with tips. Sometimes the employer will pay wages and require that all tips be turned in to the house.

It is a common feature of the "Help Wanted" columns to state that the job is desirable to the workers because of "good tips." Thus the employers are fully alert to the economic advantage of tipping, and wherever it is practicable they throw upon their patrons the entire cost of servant hire.

The extent to which employers are exploiting the public is realized vaguely, if at all. The vein of generosity and the fear of violating a social convention can be worked profitably, and they are in league with their employees to make it assay the maximum amount to the patron.

In a restaurant where the employer has thus shifted the cost of waiter hire to the shoulders of the public, the patron who conscientiously objects to tipping has not the slightest chance in the world of a square deal in competition with the patron who pays tribute, although he pays as much for the food.

A waiter, knowing that his compensation depends upon what he can work out of his patron, employs every art to stimulate the tipping propensity, from subtle flattery to out-right bull-dozing. He weaves a spell of obligation around a patron as tangible, if invisible, as the web a spider weaves around a fly. He plays as consciously upon the patron's fear of social usage as the musician in the alcove plays upon his violin.

This is a particularly bad ethical and economic situation from any viewpoint. The patron, getting only one service, pays two persons for it--the employer and the employee. The payment to the employer is fixed, but to the employee it is dependent upon the whim of the patron. To make this situation normal, the patron should pay only once, and this should cover both the cost of the food and the services of the waiter. Theoretically this is the present idea under the common law, but actually the patron is required, through fear of well-defined penalties, to pay twice.

Naturally, if the $200,000,000 or more annually given to those serving the public should be withdrawn suddenly, employers would face the necessity of a radical readjustment of wage systems. In many lines wages would be increased to a normal basis, either at the expense of the employer's profits, or through additional charges to patrons. Before going further into the employer phase of the practice, the economics of tipping in individual instances will be an interesting study. _

Read next: Chapter 5. The Economics Of Tipping

Read previous: Chapter 3. Barbary Pirates

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