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The Office: 1923

Washington, D.C., August 1923. "National Highways Association." An interesting variety of business machinery on display here including a Dictaphone and some Ediphone cylinders. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., August 1923. "National Highways Association." An interesting variety of business machinery on display here including a Dictaphone and some Ediphone cylinders. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Transcription Efficiency

The large lever to her right is used to raise the short-hand, or hand written copy, attached to the large black plate, one or more lines at a time. It was so well designed, that the same system was still being used into the 1970's.

Windows, desktop

I see an eraser shield on the desk. When I started my career as a drafter in 1988 -- the civilized way, on the drawing board, pre-CAD -- those were an indispensible tool of the trade.

Anyone know what that acrylic-looking block is, also on the desk?
[Glass paperweight. - Dave]

Sometimes I think I'd suffer through a lack of air-conditioning in my office if it meant I could open a window and get some fresh air. Shoot, if I could even see a window.

G Spot

As noted below, the building seen through the window is the Woodward & Lothrop department store. It can be reasonably determined that the location of this office was in the 1000 block of G Street, about mid-block. The clue are the cables coming off of the Woodies building outside the window. Those cables support the overhang over the entrance of the building (which is still there) on G.

Mystery markings

What are those mysterious, ribbon-like patterns seemingly floating in air along the left edge of the photo? I definitely see a scorpion.

Is it a window screen, patterned sheer curtains, or perhaps a double exposure?

[Cracks and blisters in the emulsion. At the bottom of the plate, we can see where it has separated and fallen off. - Dave]

Not Just Any Biplane

Looking at the photo of the biplane it suddenly hit me that this is a photo of a Wright Flyer.

Good Roads Everywhere

A little history behind this office:

Vertical is Your Hand's Friend

The filing cabinet drawer handles are vertical, which is more natural. Extend your hand to shake another's hand; you'll see. Wonder how horizontal became the de facto standard.

Overlooking it all

I thought it ironic that the only photo hanging in the office of National Highway Association was that of an airplane.

Office Art

That's an interesting picture on the wall -- of a biplane that was already old-fashioned by the 1920s. Ten or twelve years earlier it would have been cutting-edge.

A wonderful artifact

In novels written in the 1920s, protagonists are always going into offices or reception rooms and talking to the secretary or typist or "office girl." Now I have a mental illustration of just what that antechamber looked like - as well as the "girl."

It's also delightful to see those ubiquitous striped awnings from the inside. I do wonder, though, why they were striped, and why we never see any other kind. Where they all manufactured by the same company?

Skill and efficency

Did her job just fine without injury. Without the intervention of having every moving part banned.

Who said there weren't

Cell phones in the 20s? It is in the basket conveniently placed above the phone book. The 1922 Washington directory is thin enough that a 10-year-old could tear it in half.

How refreshing

Pre-Dell and pre-Microsoft!

Everything's up to date

except the wall outlet and phone book.


The ergonomics!


About fifty years ago my father brought home a company surplus Dictaphone of the wax cylinder type for his kids to play with. After beating on it for a while we actually got it working again. The device against the wall behind it is for shaving the grooves off of the cylinders for reuse.

Everything for the modern office.

Wow - so much in this picture to look at. The Edison recording cylinder and Dictaphone are awesome.

I also love the technology picture on the wall.

It was so hot

... that the rug and floor started melting. August in Washington, before air conditioning.


What is that thing?

I'm stumped. What is that thing hanging behind her under the window sill? A stethoscope? Suspenders?

[Transcription headset. - Dave]

Slim Volume

The first thing that struck me was the phone book, "Washington and Nearby Places." It's about as thick as a magazine.

Close shaves

Thanks to Shorpy and this image I learned minutes ago that Edison wax cylinders may be erased and recroded over numerous times. I had never before considered that possibility.

The cylinders were shaved to remove the grooves of recorded data so that new audio content may then be recorded on the same cylinder. The hand-cranked machine against the back wall appears to be one of these shaving machines.

An informative look at Edison cylinder recording equipment may be viewed at the Early Office Museum web site.

Edie was so completely focused

on the text message she was sending to Dick, that she never noticed the Tyrannosaurus Rex taking a bite out of her office building.


That appears to be the north Woodward & Lothrop building on G Street visible through the window.

What is Really Interesting

Look at the Washington, D.C. telephone directory. It looks like my small town directory.

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