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Sick Bay: 1921

Sick Bay: 1921

Washington, D.C., circa 1921. "Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. dispensary." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Svelte Operator

My mother worked for C&P as an operator in downtown DC during World War II. She said that there were very strict rules for appearance. Hat, gloves, proper dress, but beyond that, weight. If a girl was getting heavy, she would be strongly encouraged to visit the in-house doctor who would give her some pills to help her reduce. Mom said she thinks, based on how they made you feel, that they must have been basically speed.


The gizmo on the little table is an aspirator, or suction pump used to remove secretions from the mouth or the back of the throat. The smaller of the two collection bottles is probably the overflow bottle that prevents liquid from being sucked into the mechanical pump. Versions of this are still in use in hospitals today in an only slightly more updated version. If you're ever in a hospital and hear someone asking for a Gomco suction this is what'll be wheeled in.

Dental Details

The office looks like it's set up for basic dental work. A hot water dispenser, sterilizer, and trademark spit-sink to the left of the patients' chair, and a suction pump on the tripod stand in the corner.

The two glass jars on the stand with the pump are to collect the drool, tooth fragments, amalgam debris, and bone chips ... all blood-covered of course. It obviously hasn't occurred to any of these professionals that this piece of equipment should be placed out of sight behind the patient. Makes them less twitchy.


The "coffeepot" on the left and the thing next to it are steam autoclaves.


OMG this photo gives me the creeps!

Double duty

This office with the spit bowl looks like it could serve up a very scary extraction of teeth to go along with other procedures.

Cold and clinical

I want to know what the gizmo on the little table in the corner is.

I'm sure the metal-and-ceramic decor was easier to keep sanitized, but for some reason I get the feeling it would always be freezing cold in that room. Putting your neck against that bolted-on neck brace thing on the chair would be less than fun.

Clamps on the sink

Those are actually not clamps, but devices to turn on the water with your thigh, or leg. So your hands can be scrubbed without touching to turn water on or off.

Free Healthcare!

My healthcare costs $6,800 a year and isn't any better than what you see here. I need a time machine, quick.

Enamel aplenty

This photo was taken before the commercialization of stainless steel. Most metal parts in the picture are painted, those that are not are shiny enough to make me think they were chrome or nickel plated. It probably makes no difference in the medical outcome, but it certainly changes the look of the picture.

No heavy tippers

That chair deserves to win the Helsinki Award for Artistic But Awfully Uncomfortable Furniture. It appears that the chair would tip over if the patient didn't maintain perfect balance. Come in with a sore throat, leave with a concussion.

I was mistaken.

I'll return to my station, I feel much better already.

Scared sick!

Two questions,

What are the clamps on the edge of the sink for?

Is that a giant coffee urn at the extreme left or a hot water dispenser of some sort? Cream, sugar and ether, anyone?

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