From brain fatigue to National Lampoon, here’s how vacation came to be.
Americans receive 15 days off a year, on average—though many admit to taking fewer than that out of guilt. Still, the US remains the only advanced economy without required paid vacation days. Which is surprising when you realize how long humanity has been fantasizing about free time:
350 B.C.: “Leisure is necessary,” Aristotle writes, “for the development of virtue and the performance of political duties.”
1400: Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Talesequates Christian pilgrims with spring breakers: “Whanne that April with his shoures sote/The droughte of March hath perced to the rote…Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages.”
1567: Mary Queen of Scots takes heat for playing the trendy new game, golf, soon after her husband’s murder.
1600s: The Puritans scorn leisure—even on Sundays. In 1648, Massachusetts declares idleness a crime.
1700s: European gentlemen embark on “grand tours.” Women do, too, by some accounts, to flee the scandal of divorce or pregnancy.
1784: Benjamin Franklin: “If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful, the rest of the 24 hours might be Leisure and Pleasure.”
1842: “The really efficient laborer,” writes Henry David Thoreau, “will saunter to his task.”
1850s: US doctors prescribe vacation for “brain fatigue.”
1869: Preacher William H.H. Murray publishes one of the first US wilderness guidebooks, introducing the radical idea that nature is restorative. His followers are dubbed “Murray’s fools”—and to his suggestion that wives be allowed on the sojourns, one critic demurred: “Let the ladies keep out of the woods.”
1879: “If a person leaves home at the end of his week’s work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends,” a British magazine explains, “he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.”