At the Burroughs

After a busy Friday afternoon tallying accounts, the weekend probably couldn’t come soon enough for this bank employee standing at a Burroughs Adding Machine. This Team Member was photographed at a small-town Minnesota bank a century ago on August 21, 1914.

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 1914 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 1914 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In the 1910s, women were leaving the restrictive Victorian era behind, both in dress and in embracing new opportunities. Increasingly freed by technology—whether by choice or necessity—from work at home, young women could train at vocational schools in office skills and equipment. Such as adding and calculating machines. Banks employed women as clerks, stenographers, telephone operators, and tellers. Increasing numbers of women entered the workforce, a trend that accelerated as American manpower joined the fight in Europe during World War I. Independence—financial and otherwise—gave women the means to buy ready-made and work-appropriate attire. In this image, the clerk wears a long, loose skirt layered in a Peplum style, and a loose-fitting cotton “shirtwaist,” a versatile and economical buttoned-up blouse. These were chosen for comfort and ease of laundering by legions of working women a century ago.

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 2014 (Wells Fargo History Museum)

On the job in Minnesota, August 21, 2014 (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Bank record keeping and accounting became much easier (except for the standing in heels part) after former bank clerk William S. Burroughs patented a gear- and lever-operated adding machine in 1885. Wells Fargo and other banks and businesses quickly adopted the mechanical technology, and adding machines became standard office equipment for many years. These machines are “museum pieces” now, as new technologies (software!) have taken their place.

In our Minneapolis History Museum, visitors interact with an antique Burroughs machine every day, often commenting on how fun it is to try their hand at calculations done the old way. (We hauled it out just to make the historical connection across a century. To the day!)

Of course along with the changes in technology we have seen many changes in business attire. From new fabrics which are even easier to care for, to modern styles which are much more comfortable, today’s working woman can even wear pants if she is so inclined!

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