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Century of the Office: 1920-1949

Century of the Office: 1920-1949

Last week, we took a look at the office at the turn of the twentieth century. This week, weΓÇÖre continuing our blog series on the transformation of the office with a look at what it was like from the 1920s to the 1940s. (Hint: Think long hours but more tech.)

Welcome to the office: 1920-1949

Light! ThatΓÇÖs the biggest difference in offices during this period, as electric lighting becomes popular throughout the workplace.

In other ways, the office looks pretty much as it did at the turn of the century, with plenty of dark wooden desks and wood panelling around the walls. The boss can still be found in an individual office while junior office workers share open plan space; desks are usually arranged in rows, facing the front ΓÇô environments that encourage collaborative working are still a good few decades in the future.

Office workers

Contributing to the war effort during the First World War gave many women a taste for the world of work and opened up new possibilities. The number of female office workers increased throughout this period, with a peak during the Second World War, when once again women were drafted in to replace male office workers who were serving in the military.

As the office became a more respectable environment for well-educated women, the number of women in management positions also increased, although the majority of female workers were still to be found in the typing pool.

The broad age range of office workers seen at the turn of the century begins to narrow during this period. The school leaving age was raised to fifteen in 1947 while at the other end of the scale, changes to pension entitlements meant that most men could retire at sixty-five and women at sixty.


ThereΓÇÖs good news on the tech front too, as the telephone also gained in popularity during this period, making it easier and faster for many office workers to communicate with customers and suppliers.

By the 1940s, most businesses have at least one telephone, although most communication is still done by letter ΓÇô typed by a secretary, of course.

The working week

The average office worker could expect to put in longer hours than we do today. By 1943, UK workers put in an average of fifty-three hours per week, considerably more than the weekly average of 42.7 hours by workers in 2011.

What do you think? How do you rate 1930s office design? Could you cope with the lack of modern technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image of a 1930s office, from Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) via Wikimedia Commons.

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Author: | May 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

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