Tipping for a service is not a contemporary act of gratitude. Gratuities have been a practice since Tudor England days.

If you have worked in a café, fine restaurant or a bar, the tip is an important addition to your salary and a “thank you” from the patrons. When I worked in a diner in 1958, a quarter tip was as good as you could expect. Of course a burger and fries cost the customer less than a dollar, so a quarter was more than the 15 percent tip suggested at that time.

Tipping is a matter of social custom and etiquette, and it may vary in different cultures. Some countries discourage it and consider tipping an insult, while other countries or regions expect it. And in some instances, for example police officers and U.S. government workers, it is illegal to tip as it is considered bribery.

Giving a gratuity probably began around 1600. The word tip, meaning to give or to hand or to pass, originated in thieves’ cant — a jargon or language used by thieves, beggars, and hustlers to mislead or cheat people.

By the 17th century, tipping to the host’s servants was expected from overnight guests in private homes. The practice spread to London coffeehouses and cafés, as well as other businesses.

Tipping was brought to the United States by travelers who thought of it as sophisticated and cosmopolitan after traveling abroad, but a New York Times editor grumbled that, once tipping took hold in the United States, it spread rapidly like "evil insects and weeds.”

The practice of leaving a tip became customary after the Civil War as U.S. employers, largely in the hospitality sector, found it a way to avoid paying formerly enslaved workers.

A good example is the Pullman Company. They hired newly freed African American men as porters, paying them a minimal wage, thus forcing them to depend on the white travelers for tips

By the 1900s, tipping was expected in America. It was criticized by the English who thought “liberal and misguided”Americans overtipped for inferior service.

As the practice of tipping became widespread in America, many found it to be antithetical to democracy and American ideals of equality. In 1891, journalist Arthur Gaye wrote that a tip should be given to someone "who is presumed to be inferior to the donor, not only in worldly wealth but in social position also."

In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America was organized in Georgia, with more than 100,000 signers who pledged to not tip anyone for a year. Washington was the first state to adopt an anti-tipping law, with other states following. It was difficult to enforce the law and, by 1926, it had been repealed in every state.

Who would think that leaving a monetary gratitude for a service could have had social, racial and political controversy.

“Genealogy is more than names and dates. It is learning the culture of the time your ancestors lived.”

Becky McCreary is newsletter editor for the Southern Arizona Genealogy Society. Contact her at rebeccamccreary764@gmail.com or visit the society’s website at azsags.org, where her columns are archived. The articles may not be reprinted without written permission of the author.