Selectric Memory

Things we miss about the old office…

The rapid evolution of the workplace has left behind many tools and customs that we at Interiors once imagined would be with us forever. Some, we are happy to let go of, like acceptably inferior roles and compensation for women, or like laborious card-fling systems. Others we regret losing, even if they’ve been superseded by more efficient technologies and services–sturdy electric typewriters with perfect springy action, dictaphone machines and stenography pads, regular mail deliveries that gave enforced breathing room to schedules, and the aura of formality and protectiveness that greeted us when we first spilled into the labor market, 20 years ago. Taking a break from planning this issue, we binged on reminiscences that evolved into a list of relics that call forth powerful associations with a not-so-distant past. Then we asked photographer Tony Law to illustrate several specimens for our own personal gallery. We invite you to contribute thoughts about these workplace objects and the practices to which the y relate, or to add your own entries to the list.

Telex machines

Office attire

Coffee carts

Elevator operators


Three-martini lunches


IBM Selectrics

Natural light

Onion skin



Smell of mimeograph ink


Leaving at five

Never calling your boss by his or her first name

50-year tenure celebrations

Drafting boards

Secretarial pools

Switchboard phones

Busy signals

Lunch hours

Brass directional signs


Company names hand-painted on glass doors

Hardwood floors


Brown suits with vests and wide ties

Skirts below the knee

Water coolers

Hand-cranked pencil sharpeners

Name plates

Venetian blinds

Windows that open all the way

Carvel birthday cakes

Interoffice memos

Rubber stamps

Desk sets

Manually revolving calendars

Wet copiers

Ladies’ lounges

Hat trees

Walnut paneling


Telegraph deliveries

Men’s room attendants

Tape adding machines

Mag card typewriters

Rotary phones

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