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Modern Office: 1921

Modern Office: 1921

December 1921. Washington, D.C. "Machinists Association." Mad amenities in this office paradise include windows and a sink. Note the Burroughs tabulator with glass sides. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
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Machine, Addressograph, One Each

Re: Fred's comment, " Addressograph lets the user punch a name and address onto a small metal plate"...small metal plates such as the dog tags worn by generations of US soldiers from about 1940 through the 1980s. The ones used to stamp dog tags were very similar to those in the photo.

Burroughs Tabulator

I have a Burroughs tabulator with glass sides (and thanks to this post, I now know what it's called). Does anyone know much about it?

Mine doesn't have the table on the left so it just has two iron arms that stick up on the side so I didn't know what they were for until now.

Also, mine doesn't have a motor underneath or a cord so I never knew there was electricity involved.

I read Shorpy regularly. I have lots of pictures I've always said I wanted to submit so now that I had to create a username to post this comment, maybe you'll hear more from me soon.

Graphotype operation

(See image at “Model B Card Index” comment, 08/06/2013)

Inserting the plate – Operator slipped a small aluminum address plate into a spring-grip plate carriage, flipped the carriage up and back to face inward, then pushed the carriage a bit further in.

Letter selection – Letters were chosen one by one by the left hand turning the big side wheel. Letter selection was shown by a pointer traveling the long horizontal strip just below the clipboard.

Punching a letter – Right hand on center lever (rising from table) pulled to trigger the motor-driven letter-punch action, and pushed a small thumb tab to advance an empty space.

New line – Right hand repositioned the plate carriage for new lines.

Mounting the plate – Finished plate was removed and (usually) mounted in a larger steel carrier plate for storage in drawers and bulk printing. The carrier plate also accepted a paper print of the address for easy reading, and could accept colored steel tabs along its top edge to help organize the storage drawers.

Variation – For lighter printing needs, smaller address plates were used, without the carrier plates, fixed to heavy paper folders (often holding related account papers) for use in hand-operated desk printers.

Model B Card Index

This appears to be an Addressograph Mode B Card Index on the left and an Office Graphotype on the right. The card-index drawer to catch the stack of plates for re-filing after printing is above the operators knee.

The Preparation and Care of Mailing Lists, 1914.

The most modern and efficient form of card-index is the Addressograph system. This system contains all the good points of the card-index method but goes much further in that it practically operates itself. With the Addressograph system there is no need to have clerks laboriously hand-write envelopes, wrappers, etc., from the names and addresses on the records. For, by running the “cards” through the Addressograph they automatically print in facsimile typewriting the names and addresses that appear on them. …

When plates have been made for all the names, they are placed in the Addressograph and the necessary envelopes, postal cards or circulars addressed. When this is done the plates are filed away in an Addressograph card-index drawer in the same way as regular card-index cards When it is desired to use the plates for addressing, the entire drawer is simply placed in the Addressograph, and the machine started. As the plates run through the Addressograph impressions are taken from them at printing point after which they are automatically returned to the original drawer in the same order in which they were filed. As their original order of filing is not disturbed, there is no possibility of their becoming mixed.

The sink

The sink did seem strange but I guess it was to wash hands after all the oiling that was done there.
At least computers don't need oiling.

Saving Electricity

That Burroughs would work better if it were plugged in.

As a worker in the wholesale electronics business in my late teens/20's and ran Addressograph-Multigraph machines and printers, one of many hats I wore. I would feed one of the machines the brochures/advertisement by hand as I could never make the automated feed work reliably. If you spilled one of the trays loaded with those metal plates it was a task to sort and file them. The offset printer was a more forgiving, dependable machine and I cranked out plenty of trees on that.

My father-in-law was a sales rep for the A/M company and wanted me to enter the business. This was at the time when computers (using punch cards) were just coming to small businesses. I held out for computers, to his dismay but to my long term benefit. Ahh the smell of ink....

Good posture

My wife, a fashion historian, noted that the woman in the foreground is rigorously corseted in the foundation of the day based on the telltale bulge showing through the back of her dress.


The other machine in the corner is an Addressograph. Graphotype, which is used to make the Addressograph plates.

Addressograph operation

When I delivered newspapers in the early 1960s, the news agency I worked for had Addressograph machines much like the ones shown here.

For those not familiar with the technology, an Addressograph lets the user punch a name and address onto a small metal plate. The plate can then be used to print the name and address on a postcard or envelope.

The machine further from the camera punches plates. The operator has placed on her machine an index card with a name and address on it. As she types, the keystrokes are punched into a metal blank. The machine then smooths the punched plate and pops it out.

The machine closer to the camera is using a stack of plates to print labels. The machine I remember was electrically operated: the operator put in a stack of plates and a deck of postcards, and turn it on; the machine would feed the cards and plates through one at a time, and print a the name and address on each card. This machine, though, appears to be hand-operated: the operator feeds in a card, then pushes a foot treadle to print a name and address on it. The machine then pops out the plate, and loads the next one. Note the two oil cans under the machine: keeping it well lubricated was essential.

Clean hands indeed

Nothing like a little Twenty Mule Team Borax in the new convenient crank to powder dispenser that keeps ladies hands sparkling clean.

What an absolutely mad PC that would make

I've built a couple of PC's into vintage cabinetry, and let me tell you, I drool at the thought of putting a mini ITX board into that glass Burroughs box, especially if I could make its keys functional and fit the power supply in that big old motor can hangin' underneath.

Just what I need

In our modern era of bland-looking office equipment, this collection of exotic machinery looks wonderful - it must have sounded good, too, and even more so when those splendid oil cans beneath the Addressograph machine were applied. No need to defragment this equipment - just an occasional oil job.

The girl in the corner would have to be considered a visual amenity, I think.

It all comes back to me now

I can remember an adressograph type of machine in my dad's office. And I'm only 47 years old. I guess that punchcard style machines (which should have been able to do the same thing) may have been too expensive for smaller companies?

Well, electronic data processing has all but eliminated mechanical data processing.

The Second Machine

Is probably the embosser that makes the Addressograph plates.

Mt. Vernon Place and 9th Street, NW

The office appears to be on either the 6th or 7th (top) floor in the southeast corner of the Machinists Building which was located at the corner of Mt. Vernon Place and 9th Street, NW. The building seen through the windows is still standing across 9th Street (see detail below).

View Larger Map

Another Amenity

A cabinet full of fresh, clean towels delivered to the office by a truck like this.

The second machine

I recognized the Addressograph machine closest to the camera, but what's the other machine? It almost looks like some sort of multigraph machine, but not quite. Is it a machine for making the plates for the Addressograph?


Nice shot of the flash powder going off!

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