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Paying the Harvesters by Leon-Augustin Lhermitte, 1882

Perhaps, I am a bit late to the retirement savings game, but better late than never. To my credit, when I started my career the City automatically enrolled me in a plan. . . I just have not taken an active roll in it. Until now. So now I am trying to figure out what’s what.

Generally, I am terrible with numbers, which is what makes my interest in retirement so ironic. My money philosophy is based on fear: pay bills, spend little and stash the rest away. Done deal. My standard response to a number-based question is “Uh . . . you know me; I can’t Math.” I have quite a bit of money saved up as a result of my money philosophy, so I cannot complain.

But I digress; Retirement. The idea is hilarious to me because I don’t want to ever retire! I love what I do! I had to “learn” to go home and ‘turn off.’ It took a few years and some serious threats from my then-supervisors. Most librarians I know feel this way. Just like many a soldier wants to die in battle, librarians relish the thought of dying in the stacks! But whatever . . . retirement is probably a good idea anyways, so I enter the foray.

American retirement as we know it is a relatively new concept. Private and military pension go back to ancient times, but national governments and civilian sectors did not whole heartedly jump into the game until 19th century.

The Bank of England was the first private company to grant a pension in 1739. Hence forth, pensions were dolled out on an individual discretionary basis. Some of the earliest company-wide pension schemes were Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company Superannuation Fund, in 1841. Railroad companies were next to follow suit for their employees; firms such as Reuters (1882), WH Smith (1894), Colmans (1899). Courtaulds, Boots, Kenricks, and J and P Coats also set up pension plans.

It has been suggested these companies originally use pension as an incentive to retain staff loyalty, but others argue that some companies were generally invested in the long term welfare of their people; money aside. Pensions “also represented a way of ensuring efficiency in manual occupations by encouraging older staff to retire and calming industrial relations, such as the mining profession.

“In 1875 American Express Company, which was a transportation enterprise at that time–not credit card company, established the first private pension plan in the United States in an effort to create a stable, career oriented workforce.”

In the late 1800s almost 75% of all males over 65 years old were still working. If he wasn’t employed, it was more than likely because he was disabled.

Germany holds the claim of being the first nation in the world to have “an old-age social insurance program” in 1889, put forth, by none other than Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

“Bismarck was motivated to introduce social insurance in Germany both in order to promote the well-being of workers in order to keep the German economy operating at maximum efficiency, and to stave-off calls for more radical socialist alternatives.
The German system provided contributory retirement benefits and disability benefits as well. Participation was mandatory and contributions were taken from the employee, the employer and the government.” Despite contrary claims, the 65 year standard retirement age was not because that was Otto von Bismarck’s current age. When the Germany adopted the national retirement plan Bismarck was already 74 years old. The plan initially set the retirement age at 70. It was almost 30 years later that the age was lowered to 65, almost 20 years after the demise of Bismarck. It was Germany’s retirement scheme that was the model of the American model.

Just a decade later it was estimated the approximate life expectancy was 49 years old from birth, it is unknown at this time if this represents both men and women or if it is strictly referring to men. Those that reached aged 60, typically went on to live another dozen years. Thus, retirement was only supposed to cover the last decade or so of life, not the 30 plus years we are familiar with in Modern day. Victorians regardless of age and pension plans continued to work as long as they were able.

As I read up on retirement there are claims that Millennials (that’s me!) and younger won’t “really” retire or will actually retire closer to 70, in part because we tend to seek out enjoyable employment, as opposed to previous generations who worked to live. Millennials are looking to find a job they love to begin with, which in turn makes them live to work.

Now I found this hysterical bit when researching retirement history for this post. It comes from a New York Times article about 15 years ago. I laughed so hard, I choked!


As the centuries passed, the elderly population increased. By early medieval times, their numbers had reached critical mass. It was no longer just a matter of respecting the occasional white-bearded patriarch. Old people were everywhere, giving advice, repeating themselves, complaining about rheumatism, trying to help, getting in the way and making younger people feel guilty. Plus they tended to hang on to their wealth and property. This made them very unpopular with their middle-aged sons, who were driven to earn their inheritances the old-fashioned way, by committing patricide. Even as late as the mid-18th century, there was a spate of such killings in France. In 1882, Anthony Trollope wrote a futuristic novel, ”The Fixed Period,” in which he foresaw retiring large numbers of old men to a place where they would be encouraged to enjoy a year of contemplation, followed by a peaceful chloroforming. But this was hardly an acceptable long-term strategy.”

Read the entire thing here.