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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Mail Equipment Shops: 1915

Mail Equipment Shops: 1915

Washington, D.C., circa 1915. "Post Office Department." The Mail Equipment Shops last glimpsed here. Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.

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At least the fan has a guard. Kinda.

Certain vices

It is interesting to see that each of these men shared two common vices.

Civil War Vet?

The old man in the foreground could have very likely been a Civil War veteran. Especially after seeing the advertisement about jobs not being age restricted at the Post Office for veterans.

Punch presses

Those are punch presses. The heavy flywheel is where the energy comes from. It rotates continuously. When the operator has his part in place he depresses the foot treadle and a clutch is engaged for one revolution. The die comes down and completes the operation, after which the operator removes the completed part and inserts another blank. In later days all that moving machinery would be enclosed in safety housings. Also, some presses were equipped with wrist bands for the operator. If his hands weren't safely out of the way at the start of the operation, they would be automatically yanked backward out of danger.

(Response to a question from a Shorpy user): To clarify a little, if the hands are back where they should be there is no yanking since the apparatus would be slack at that correct distance. I saw it in use years ago and the annoying thing from what I could see might be that you're always wearing those wrist straps with cords attached. Considering that you might notice around the factory from time to time an old-timer with a missing finger or two, it might not be so bad. I think I could live with it.


Nice long back supports attached to the machinsts chairs.

What are those bins?

Are those government issue white enamel spitoons next to the chairs of the workmen?

Or just some other kind of trash bin?


I'm sure these workers worked for weeks, months, years without an accident. Today, it would never work. It would need to be made idiot proof.

Expert Mechanics

It's a shame the lamp shades are obscuring the working bits. Are these drill presses? Hole-punchers?

Washington Post, December 28, 1923.

Mechanics' Jobs Open.

Examination to Fill Vacancies Set for January 9.

An examination to fill positions of junior mechanic in the mail equipment shops of the Postoffice Department has been announced for January 9 by the civil service commission.

The entrance salary in these positions is $2.25 a day. The age limits are 16 and 45 years, except in the case of honorably discharged soldiers, sailors and marines, where no age limit applies. Information and application blanks may be had at the office of the civil service commission, 1724 F street northwest.

Washington Post, Jan 25, 1924.

Expert Workers for Uncle Sam.

By Lee Lamar Robinson

In the mail equipment shops for the fiscal year ended in June 20, 1923, there were, among other things, 1,245,65 mail bags alone manufactured. A few of the tasks falling to the technical personnel include possible improvement of lighting systems in postoffices and railway mail cars, tests of painting and varnishing materials used on government-owned motor trucks and new methods of transporting safely parcel post packages.

Drive upgrade

Looks like the shop was recently upgraded to individual electric motors from the ubiquitous overhead line shafts.

I bet it could take a while to bring those big flywheels up to speed, too!


I find it interesting that the electric drive motors for these presses are mounted to the ceiling. i wonder if these were converted from overhead shaft drive, or if this is just a residual design mindset.

Laissez Faire

While the Post Office of the time was certainly Government, it's interesting that there was apparently neither union nor government labor laws at the time. The man on the right looks like he's old enough to be retired, while the boy beside him looks barely old enough to have graduated high school. That's what an unregulated, non-union workforce would look like. Thanks Shorpy -- that's something I haven't been able to see in my own time.

Wish I could tell what they were making or repairing -- something that required quite a bit of mechanical energy through the drive belts.

[There were postal unions at the time, but they did not gain collective bargaining rights until the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. Two of the most common items made up of lots of complicated machined components were lock assemblies for street collection boxes and post office boxes. Old-style versions of the latter appeared to have been designed by Rube Goldberg. Believe me. - tterrrace]

The Gaffer

is certainly much older by decades than the other employees! However, it looks like he's being supervised by the younger gentleman, or is he showing how it's supposed to be done?

The blurred spokes of those spinning wheels would be giving OSHA the vapors in this completed unprotected workplace, free of a single orange or yellow warning label!

Electric drive

I'm wondering how recently the driveshaft from the steam engine was replaced by all those electric motors hanging overhead?

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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