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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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The Office: 1941

The Office: 1941

April 1941. Clerical staff of a South Side Chicago insurance company. 35mm nitrate negative by Russell Lee for the FSA. View full size.

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In Spain

In Spain such disposition it is common. Of course there are computers and phones today, but not cubicles.

Frankly, I'd hate having to work in a cube farm, and thankfully I only know them through movies.

It wasn't so bad

I had a job in what was probably one of the last such work environments circa 1992. Yeah, it was noisier and all, but there was more human contact and everybody looked out for each other.

Today I walk into my cube farm and I think "cellblock".

No computers!

Windows 1941 was actually real windows!

It looks

loud, dim, and hot or cold depending on the season.

As for the lack of cups and such, it was a rare and enlightened business that offered the help so much as a coffee break. The most you could hope for was a water cooler with cone cups, so you were sure not to put them down.

I bet they never forgot their TPS report cover sheets

No sir, not one of these ladies.

Office desks

I also noticed, no coffee cups, telephones or personal items on the desks. Quite different from today in many offices.

Two Guys

Is that the boss next to the fire extinguisher? The lone male . . . No, wait, I think I see one more: left side second row.

They are making their own success

All the workers are black. It looks like the founder in the painting may be black also. I guess this is a black-owned, operated and even female-employing company serving the needs of their community.

I think this is a much more positive image of black life than the "Old-time negro" we saw a few pages ago!

These look like pretty good environs for 1941, for anyone. I like the blur on the hands of the woman in front. She's getting things done!


No Successories needed here: look at the rear wall and see the Founding Father of the company glowering at anyone daring to shirk her duties!

Before there were cube farms

Uncomfortable wooden chairs, clacking typewriters, annoying coworkers...this photo makes me appreciate my cubicle a little more.

The Office

I once interviewed for a copywriter job at the now merged into something else Bank of Virginia in the VA sprawl abutting D.C. back in the early '90s and it looked like this but with about 10 times as many people in one big room (and with PCs instead of typewriters and adding machines). The expansive view on three sides from the glass office tower made the prospect that much more dismal and depressing to me.

Regarding of the sardonic comment below, have you seen the TV "Office" calendar? It's full of inspirational successories featuring the cast.

Office Decor

How could these people have gotten any work done? There's no "inspirational" Successories posters or even an uplifting mission statement. How primitive.

SHORPY OLD 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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