Here is a wonderful bit of history from the 1950's about the office and the use of equipment.
Nearly all modern business is done in offices, and the bulk of office work consists of some form of communication. Reading, writing, talking, telephoning, and typewriting are essential forms of business communication. It is important to save time and labour over all this, as office expenses are not what is called 'productive' expenditure: that is, they do not lead directly to the production of goods. Office communications may be classified into two groups: first, the linking of people and things so that they can make contact easily, and the standardizing of written communications for the sake of speed and clarity; secondly, the compiling of information, and its rapid and ready presentation so that nothing is overlooked or lost.
The Telephone is a vital link. Telephones within an office may be either part of the public Post Office system or private intercommunication telephones that may be bought or rented. Most business firms have switchboards for their exchange lines. In small firms these may be single, with two or three extension lines, watched by a clerk who also has other duties. Bigger firms may have a number of large switchboards, with perhaps 100 lines to the public telephone exchange and 300 or 400 internal extension lines running to various members of the staff. In a large modern business, and particularly in such a one as a big newspaper office, as many as eight or more full-time operators, usually exemployees of the public telephone service, may be needed to work in shifts to maintain a telephone service of this kind; and a Post Office staff engineer may have a whole-time job supervising, repairing, and adjusting the lines of such a firm. Most of the private intercommunication telephone systems are of the automatic type and require no operator. Sometimes the head of a business or of a large department makes use of an instrument by which several members of the staff may be signalled and spoken to at the same time, either through linked telephones or loudspeakers. Short conferences of several people can thus take place without their having to come together. If a firm has offices in two or more distant parts of the country, a tie-line rented from the Post Office will provide constant telephone communication without the need to book trunk calls. The teleprinter is also much used by large business firms with a central head office and many provincial branches, and teleprinter messages have the advantage that they provide a definite record of what has been said. In large offices rows of coloured lights on the walls or ceilings of corridors and other places are used to catch the attention of important officials and to warn them that they are urgently needed at some point in the building; different officials are identified by different combinations of lights. American experiments in saving time over internal communications have included the use of messengers on roller-skates for long journeys along the corridors of large buildings.
Large shops, particularly Department Stores, often have special means of communication to enable their sales staff to send customers' money to a central cash desk, from which change and receipts are sent back to the counters. Earlier in the century this was often done by placing the money in a hollow wooden ball which ran 'downhill', moved by its own weight, on gently sloping rails. Later, a small container, hanging from a wire, was 'shot' across the shop by a spring. Pneumatic tubes, in which containers are propelled by compressed air, are the more modern system. They are much used in newspaper offices to send 'copy' from the editorial to the printing departments, and to send other communications about the office. In Paris the principal post offices are linked by pneumatic tubes, through which express letters-called locally bleus or pneumatiques-can be sent for a special fee.
Much time is saved in modern business by standardizing written communications, generally through the use of forms. All printed forms such as invoices and receipts are standard ways of communicating information in a quick, easy, and accurate way. Departments and branches of banks, shops, factories, and other large concerns keep their records by standardized means, often on standard printed forms.
In modern business the compiling or recording of information has now become very systematized and is often mechanized. Many documents that would be bulky to handle are now filed in a compact and orderly way by being photographed microscopically. As with Airgraphs, a roll of film 1.5 inches wide can carry a record of hundreds of documents. When a document has to be consulted, it can either be viewed through an enlarger or be projected on a screen in the same way as a cinema film. Speech can be recorded and stored on plastic discs like gramophone records, on discs of toughened paper or paper tape, or on a magnetized steel wire or steel ribbon. Filing systems may be arranged alphabetically or, like library catalogues, on a system of decimal figures. Files are kept in cabinets, drawers, trays, boxes, shelves, or folders, as may best suit their use. Folders, leaves, and cards can be fitted with coloured tabs, so that all information on a given subject can be located at' a glance and presented at a touch of the finger. The presentation of statistics is made easier if the office is equipped with the 'punched card' system described under accounting, machine; sorting-machines group the information contained on the cards according to any pattern thought necessary, and deliver it automatically.
Equipment for Letters
In a small firm little equipment except typewriters will be used, but nowadays most large firms use a variety of labour-saving machines, most of them in order to save time over writing, dispatching, or even receiving letters. Most business letters, except those that are purely formal, need to be dictated by a responsible member of the firm's staff, and a dictaphone or similar machine-which is really a recording gramophone-makes it possible for letters to be dictated at any time and typed when a typist is ready. Another machine that saves much time in a busy office, and retains the goodwill of the customers of a business, is the automatic typewriter. One of the problems that many businesses have to solve is how to send out a letter that is really a 'form' or circular letter, but which must appear to the recipient as if it has been dictated and written especially for him. It is impossible to convey this impression if this kind of letter is prepared in quantities in advance, the name and address and the opening greeting being typed on to it afterwards. Even if the same typewriter which typed the original is used, the alignment and adjustment of the address and greeting can never be perfect. The automatic typewriter solves the problem. It works on much the same principle as the player-piano or Pianola, typing automatically from a perforated paper record of the original that has been made beforehand. The typist loads the machine with a record of the appropriate form letter, types in the name and address and the opening greeting, and then switches on the machine, which completes the letter automatically.
For the preparation of ordinary circular letters which do not need such careful attention as this there are many efficient types of duplicator. One form makes use of a 'stencil', a sheet of paper coated with wax; this is inserted in a typewriter, the inking-ribbon of which is put out of action; when the typewriter keys are struck by the typist in the usual way, the sharp metal characters of the alphabet cut through the thin film of wax on the paper. Later, when the waxed paper is inserted in a duplicator, and ink is applied, the ink will only take effect where the wax has been cut; the principle is that of stencilling. Other forms of duplicator act more or less on the same principle as an ordinary printing-machine. For the duplication of drawings, diagrams, specifications, and original documents the photostat process of copying by a camera is used. Another problem that arises in connexion with the dispatch of circulars is the addressing of large numbers of envelopes. If the same people are being written to frequently, it may pay to install an 'Addressograph' or similar type of automatic envelope-addressing machine. One type of machine works from thin metal stencil-plates that are cut mechanically, and can be stored in trays in alphabetical or any other desired order. A stack of envelopes and of plates is then placed in the machine, which delivers the envelopes automatically addressed. The 'window' type of envelope, with an opening covered with transparent paper, solves the problem in another way, provided that the letter, circular, or other enclosure being sent has the name and address already typed on it. The enclosure is then merely folded so that the name and address is visible through the 'window' in the envelope. The envelope-addressing machine may be used to put the names and addresses on the enclosures instead of on the envelopes.
Opening incoming letters and sticking the stamps on outgoing letters are tasks which can take up much time. There are now efficient machines that will open letters automatically at a high speed. The office boy who used to stick stamps on letters is now merely a memory in many large offices which have installed 'franking' machines. These automatically stamp envelopes passed through them, and have a counting mechanism attached which shows the total postage charge to put through the firm's accounts. Such machines are set and locked by officials of the Post Office, according to the amount paid over beforehand.