The Office

Photograph of 21-year-old Mary Cumming, secretary at the offices of industrial designer Raymond Loewy, 1956

Photograph of 21-year-old Mary Cumming, secretary at the offices of industrial designer Raymond Loewy, 1956

Dressed for Success

In the years after World War II, the suit became an emblem of striving, success, conformity, and growing business culture. As more Americans, especially women, moved into office work, they had more money to spend on the abundance of goods available.

Woman’s suit, 1949–1950

Women’s work clothing balanced professionalism with femininity and practicality.

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Man’s suit, 1957

Fortune magazine called men’s suits the uniforms of American enterprise. The gray suit, a safe choice often criticized as conformist, embodied corporate culture.

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Secretary’s Desk

A desk, such as this small one from a government office, became a secretary’s domain—and a platform for work and for individual expression. Office workers personalized their space with consumer goods—a change of shoes, purse, and vase.

Royal typewriter, about 1947

Gregg shorthand speed certificate, 1944

Managers measured secretaries’ skill by how fast they could type or write in shorthand. Both functions became speedier with new machines, the Dictaphone and the electric typewriter.

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Red leather pair of shoes

The Office: Information Revolution

IBM led business computing in the 1960s, leasing machines to institutions in the United States and around the globe. Computers ushered in a new age of speed, efficiency, and information, but they also prompted debates about automation and loss of jobs.

Model of IBM System/360, about 1964

Models allowed IBM salesmen to demonstrate the flexible components of the S/360 to potential buyers who wanted to tailor the system to their needs.

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COBOL tape reel for UNIVAC, 1960

One of the earliest computers, UNIVAC, processed data using the computer language COBOL.

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“Think,” declared Thomas Watson Sr., CEO of IBM in the 1920s, and it stuck, becoming the enduring company slogan. Desk signs, notepads, and the title of the company magazine, all reminded IBM employees of the importance of innovation.

"Welcome To IBM" packet, 1950s

THINK, IBM’s company magazine, June 1962

THINK, IBM’s company magazine, June 1962

THINK notepad, 1960s

THINK notepad, 1960s

Screenshot of the Consumer Era Table interactiveWould you like to learn more about these objects and other related stories from the Consumer Era? Click on the screenshot above to open an interactive display in a new window.