The Evolution of the Office

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours in the office. It’s where we earn our livings, receive social interactions, and find our professional identities, which makes it an excellent gauge for the development of society. The images below depict the evolution of the office from as early as the 1500s all the way to today. It’s fascinating to see how the adoption of new technologies, fashions, and attitudes has changed our second home. And some of these might just make you appreciate your modern second home a little more!

1500-1770 – In their formative stages, offices were more like independent studies. Be glad you don’t have to wear a robe to work and write in ink-dipped pen.

1770-1880 – This era is represented by hand crafted furniture, specific attention to themed decoration, and shared workspaces. We also see our first signs of electricity, which would change life in the office forever.

1880’s – With the invention of the first commercial typewriter in 1870, many offices began to take advantage. Skilled typists could now transcribe information at 3-4 times the handwritten rate.

1890’s – The desire for personal comfort and more relaxed office rules made way for what would become the modern day “suit and tie.”

1900’s – The turn of the century began what is considered the first decade of materialism and consumerism. Men styled in long, slim suits while women wore dresses with broad shoulder pads. Doesn’t casual Friday sound fantastic now?

1910’s – With the invention of the electrical typewriter, hundreds of typewriter secretary positions were created. This decade also saw the men of many offices off to fight in WWI.

1920’s – Henry Ford’s studies of workflow and mass production had affects far beyond auto production. Offices were planned to promote maximum efficiency and minimize waste.

1930’s – Though women had been members of the American workforce for over 100 years, their inclusion became rapidly prevalent. In the 1930’s alone, the percentage of women in the workplace rose by 25%.

1940’s – World War II pulled the nation out of the Great Depression as women stepped up to fill the jobs vacated by men who went to war, while television became mainstream. The total number of TV sets grew from 5,000 to 17 million during the decade.

1950’s – With Europe decimated and American soldiers back from the war, industry and family creation exploded. Culture took a conservative turn, as the battle between capitalism and communism invaded every aspect of society.

1960’s – Style becomes a priority. Concepts such as spacing, color, and flow are given specific attention. And check out that hairstyle!

1970’s – The floppy disc arrived in 1970 and was soon followed by the microprocessor. The invention of jumbo jets revolutionized commercial flights and counter culture elements from the 60s like long haired men, bell bottoms, and platform shoes became mainstream.

1980’s – The personal computer, though expensive and limited in its functionality, begins to nudge its way onto desks across the country.

1990’s – Computers can be found on almost every desk. It’s interesting to note that the large stacks of paper almost vanish completely.

2000’s – Flat panel monitors allow for a lot more desk space, and rapidly blossoming technology allows creative new setups.

Bonus – The Future – Of course, these are only guesses, but the adaptation of evolving technology is already showing signs of multi-screen displays, complete wireless setups, and progressive, relaxed work environments that cater to their young and hip inhabitants.

Historical office images from OfficeMuseum.com.

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