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Official Business: 1936

Official Business: 1936

Feb. 6, 1936. Washington, D.C. "Treasurer of the United States checks." Stacked around the CAUTION tray. Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


Air Conditioning

Treasury got it in 1934. 1928 the House of Representatives had air, 1929 the Senate, 1930 the White House, Executive Office Building, and the Department of Commerce.

Not a Telephone in Sight

I can't spot any telephones anywhere in the image. This is yet another difference between then and now.

There's a strange absence of business machines in general, although the woman looking up at the camera might be sitting at either a wide-carriage typewriter or possibly an early ledger-card machine.

The four metal trays on the desk in the right foreground are a type of card file. The trays fit into a much larger cabinet. These would be very compatible with a ledger card machine.

What are they doing? Simply stuffing envelopes? Checking amounts against ledger cards? Recording the issue of the check on ledger cards? Maybe reconciling cancelled checks?

Dress Code

The men seem to have a "vested" interest in their jobs.

An old wrinkle

With a desktop computer, I could sort millions of checks, collate them, and mail-merge them with a name/address database table in minutes. Printing them would take a while because of the mechanical limitations of printers. But while they were printing, I could be composing reports about the checks and send the reports to a second printer out in the hallway, before beginning work on a new database that tracks postage costs, and so on. The photo wouldn't be so interesting, though, since I would be the only one in the picture. And I am getting wrinkled in my old age!

Processing of checks by hand

It had to take all those people in that room to process those government checks by hand. Today they are computer printed, if you even get a government check at all. Tax refunds, Social Security benefits (even though SS passed in 1935-it wasn't until 1940 when the first checks came out), employee paychecks, etc. are now mostly direct-deposited.

Very busy soon

In late January, 1936, Congress overrode Roosevelt's veto and enacted the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act, which paid WWI veterans their bonus. Veterans could take their bonus as a nine year bond, or they could get a check for cash. Most veterans took the cash, so this office was about to get very busy issuing checks.

Touch Of Greenery

The Ladies have tried to humanize the work space with the potted plants. Nice.

79 Years Later

Corporations are now going back to this same floor plan, only now they're calling it "Agile". One sneeze and everybody gets sick.

Re: The way we were

vs. The way we are:

OTY, I'm not (quite) of your age and generation, but still gainfully employed, and enjoying those modern conveniences.
I could argue that I get more done in CAD design, electronic modelling and simulation, component selection and many more tasks in a day than I would have in the 50's and 60's, and STILL have plenty of time to fit in visits to Shorpy.


Sample Sale

I have often wondered if those employees got a shot at the inventory.

Hot and Cold

So: I see radiators and related pipes on the far right of the photo - and ductwork that looks suspiciously like air conditioning on the far left. Perhaps the fans helped move the hot/cold air to the right places.

The way we were

I don't quite go all the way back to 1936, but when I was gainfully employed (in the 1950's and beyond) this is similar to what was expected and demanded of an employee. You were hired to WORK and work you must. Can you imagine any of these workers trying to look at personal e-mails, do their online Christmas shopping, play all sorts of games, check out the latest risque websites, pay their own bills on line, make personal appointments and vacation plans, chat with friends (and strangers) and whatever other sorts of myriad activities people are doing today while their employers are paying them wages for allegedly "working". Sure I'm jealous because back in my day I couldn't even make a phone call (not related to company business) without being scrutinized. Even with today's much-maligned, dreaded cubicles which are hated by so many, at least today's workers have relative privacy to do their own thing, which was not permitted in most businesses, even in the 50's and 60's. I know I sound like Grandpa Simpson but it is all true. You kids today don't know how lucky you are. Some may say this is why very little actual productivity occurs these days, that computers are both a curse and a blessing, but even with a massive, long-term power outage, I think the people in this picture could still get their jobs done. However, though I'd like to have my youth back, I would not want to go back to this era. Look at those faces. Life is a lot more fun today (and I can rant and ramble on "comment boards").

Gone with the wind

I see thousands of loose checks around this large open room, and at least five large oscillating fans nearby. This looks like a recipe of disaster!

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