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The Office: 1923

Washington, 1923. "Stamp Division, Post Office." View full size. National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. Everyone look busy!

Washington, 1923. "Stamp Division, Post Office." View full size. National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. Everyone look busy!


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Grumpy Mother in Law

That lady on the far left looks like one of those "children should be seen and not heard" types.

Those Lamps

We have four schoolhouse lights in our home exactly like the ones in the picture. They were taken out of the old post office here and have "1917" etched inside the fixture. Whenever we move, we take them with us.

Look at that lighting!

The ceiling's covered with classic ribbed acid-etched Holophane glass pendants -- the elder fixtures -- and between those are newish "schoolhouse" style opal glass shades. The schoolhouse fixtures became institutional classics and probably have 150 watt bulbs inside the shades. The Holophane shades were designed to refract and emphasize weaker early light bulbs, and worked surprisingly well as task lights. What a great scene this is, in so many ways.


"Smiles, everyone! Smiles! Welcome to Fantasy Island!"

Jim Halpert?

He looks more like the 1920's Dwight Schrute to me. Dwight's main ambition in life is to die at his desk, this fellow probably did.

So-So History but Excellent Humor

Older than Yoda cracked me up with his vision of the matrons in this shot indulging in barefoot, desk-top dancing at the office party! The sobering (sorry) response about Prohibition being in force at the time just made it all the funnier!

Amazing picture

This is one of the most amazing pictures I've seen on Shorpy. Definitely the most people looking right at the camera, and a real study in captured moments. That young, disgruntled looking fellow certainly could belong to several different eras. So many old, distinguished types. It's one of those photos where you can smell the wood, leather and shoe polish.

Thank you for all these images.


And in 30 years most of offices like this would be taken over by IBM and their punch cards.


As someone who enjoys the study of the Faces of Mankind, this is a wonderful photo to look at. I wonder if they had to use postage stamps to ship out any of the reports that came out of their calculators, or did they have access to email, instead?


All the data contained in those cabinets would fit into my PC.


I can empathize with the lady sitting in the rolling chair with her side to the camera. Her feet don't reach the floor when her chair is high enough to reach her machine. That makes for a VERY uncomfortable 8-10 hours. Though she does have great shoes...

Older Workers

Well, this WAS before Social Security. People worked till they dropped.

[Government employees usually had pensions. - Dave]

Paging Jim Halpert

The person who stands out most for me is the young man on the right behind the lady standing. He doesn't quite fit in and yet he seems happy to be there. My thought is that he's fresh out of college and is honored to be working amid such esteemed company. Look around him at the generations of intelligent men and women in the room. He seems to gain inspiration in knowing that one day he too will be older and venerated. His jacket is off, but rather than attempting to look casual, he's smartly dressed and his perfectly knotted tie is surrounded by a dapper vest and crowned by a starched collar.

The older men around him serve as an inspiration to him and his belief in the system. They are role models, peers, and father figures. The gentleman immediately behind the young man could easily have stepped off a Smith's cough drops box and exudes 19th century style and dignity. The man to the right appears to be related somehow to Wilford Brimley and behind him is a pre-campaign John McCain.

Looking around the room, I can see why he wants to fit in and be one of the crowd. Looking back at him I can see that he never would. The slight smile tells me he wants to rise and strike out as an artist. The culture of the era wouldn't allow him to do so. With some luck, at some point in his career he was allowed to rise and become one of the supervisors who stood watch over the room. Our young man's supervisor is standing far in the back, ready to answer questions and shake those drifting off.

I imagine that after the image was snapped, he thought, "I wonder if I'll see that picture? I hope I looked OK." Then his eyes went back to the ledger and suppressing a yawn started adding those sums again...

William H Macy

Left column of desks 6th row looks like William H Macy or a close relative. i wonder what his grandfather was doing in 1923?

Ordinary expressions

Well, some of them are smiling or have pleasant expressions on their faces, despite the fact that most likely the photographer had just yelled out, "OK everybody, when I say 'HOLD IT' don't move a muscle for X seconds!" Anyway, just exactly how joyful does anyone expect accountancy to make a person?

I was thinking exactly the same thing.

His doleful expression also seems very modern, I recognize that look, I'm sure I portrayed it myself.


I guess the older women struck out. Manhattan is full of them.

Office Christmas Party

With that entire group of sober, somber and serious toilers, imagine what their holiday party was like. Not one laborer is hamming it up for the camera, not even a shadow of a smile to be had in the bunch, no out-of-bounds behavior for a picture to be frozen in time. The job must have had excellent fringe benefits (or French benefits) and although they all looked absolutely miserable and more like salt mine workers than accountants, they wanted to keep those joyless jobs. Try to imagine the annual holiday party with alcoholic spirits served to bring these stuffy stiffs to life. Those three old girls on the left would be kicking off their shoes and dancing on their desks. Someone should have told them "a little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men." Do you suppose they had casual Fridays.

[I wonder how many government office parties served booze during Prohibition. - Dave]

Stamp Division

The Stamp Division of the (then) Post Office Department managed the supply and distribution of postage stamps and stamped paper for all the post offices throughout the country. They would fulfill orders from local offices and also receive back damaged and unsalable stock. Given the magnitude of the operation, a big part of their function involved accounting, which appears to be going on here.

Next Question

What are they doing exactly? Anyone know?

The Crowd

Reminds me of a scene in the 1928 film "The Crowd". The other thing is, I am a bit surprised to see the older ladies in the workforce; would have expected only young secretarial types looking for that first husband while trying to make it in the city.

Surfing at Work

Some things never change!

Time Traveler

Check out the young guy on the left, 4th desk back from the front. He looks like he is from 40 years later (i.e. shirt collar, haircut style).


An amazing diversity of ages in the office. Don't know that you would see that now.

At computer with the computer

In the early days, accountants were often called computers - the human adding machine. In the middle of this photo it appears we have a woman "computer" at a very large calculating machine - electric by the looks of the cord hanging down. Must be the head number cruncher... I'll be that made some noise when it ran a calculation!

Stamp subjects

Some of those old geezers look like they should be posing for stamps.

Dalton Adding Machine

The adding machines appear to be Dalton Ten Key models, manufactured from 1902 to 1928.

Museum of HP calculators

Also love those staplers: Acme No. 2.

Early Office Museum

[Oooh. An Acme. A great brand! And they'll deliver anywhere. A cave out in the desert, for instance. - Dave]

At least we have cubicles

At least we have cubicles now. Fascinating though -- other than the racial homogeneity, these faces could easily be those of the co-workers around me today. Also, it's almost lunchtime. I wonder how long they got for lunch?

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