Viewers of television’s Mad Men will know all too well that the modern office environment is very different from that of the sixties. What you may not have considered is how many of the characters in that show do jobs that no longer exist.
The technological revolution that unfolded throughout the twentieth century meant that many of the functions and positions we associate with the post-war workplace have been made redundant by microprocessors and modern machinery.
The Tea Lady
Mainly a British custom, the office or factory tea lady was responsible for keeping her fellow workers refreshed. Heavily encouraged during the Second World War to boost the efficiency of workers in the war effort, the tea lady became a staple of British comedy (cf. the Carry On films) only to disappear completely in the 80s after the introduction of hot drinks vending machines.
The Mailroom Clerk
Responsible for the management of a company’s incoming and outgoing mail. The mailroom clerk is a key component of the American dream, in which a young man starting in the lowest echelons of the business can rise through sheer grit and determination to one day become the CEO. Increasingly replaced by digital mailroom equipment such as letter folding, opening and franking machines, which have no such aspirations.
The early years of telephony would see whole rooms of young women sat in front of large telephone switchboards connecting calls by inserting phone plugs into the appropriate jacks. The very first female operator was Emma Nutt, employed by the Boston Telephone Despatch company in 1878. It is said that Emma could remember every number in the New England telephone directory (though it was, admittedly, a lot smaller then). Emma’s job has since been made obsolete by modern telephony and digital telephone systems.
In the pre-computer age large offices would have a group of highly skilled touch-typists carrying out admin tasks for executives without their own personal secretaries. Their duties would include typing letters and hand written notes, copying documents and taking dictation. Nowadays the typing pool is obsolete as executives have learned to type themselves, use PCs and have access to photocopiers and scanners for making copies.
“I remember when all this was paper” you might hear an elderly person remark upon walking into a modern office. And they’d be right. The business world of yesteryear required armies of people to keep all the paperwork organised and in the right place so that key information was available on demand. This was a world where the grey metal filing cabinet was king. Modern document management is computerised, with data on call at the touch of a key, courtesy of database software.
This article was written by Jamie Griffiths, Content Editor at Approved Index