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Shop lighting 1941


Aug 19, 2004
New England
We discussed here recently (http://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb/showthread.php?t=149446) the topic of historic machine shop lighting.

While I don't seem to have photographs of this exactly I do have here two photographs, each taken November 5th, 1941, at my family's part-owned iron works, The S. J. Creswell Iron Works, in Philadelphia (my family bought into this later, not until 1952) that show lighting in two areas of the plant.

Here is a scene identified as the 'engineering dept,' a space I always knew in the 1960's as 'the drafting room:'


You can quite easily see the green and white reflectors we were discussing. I wasn't in the drafting room all that much but, in this view, at the right, you can see into the pattern shop where I did spend some time. I think that the band saw is just about visible through the glass, encased in shop built shrouds. (The band saw shared a countershaft with the 20" jointer, which was under the floor beneath the two machines, this was a second floor loft.) Nine people, one of whom might have been the business owner, a lot of work going on there.

Here is a photograph of the offices:


in which you can quite easily see the fluorescent fixtures that were de riguer at the time. Seven people to run that office. There was also a president's office, and maybe a little spot for a paymaster; later I recall there was a spot for a purchasing agent. I was in the offices a good bit and, when I was there about 25 years later they looked very similar to this photograph. Cute secretaries, if they are alive the youngest will be in her late eighties now.

Fashion statement, November in Philadelphia: nine of the eleven men are wearing vests.

Too bad it couldn't have been saved as a museum; it's a parking lot at the moment, with development plans proceeding.
Nice pictures of old offices!

There are a lot of nice old items in that second photo!

The woman on the far right might not be working a typewriter. That might be a mechanical bookkeeping device that kept accounts on punched cards. Then again, it might be simply a typewriter.

There's a classic candlestick phone on the window shelf, just above the shoulder of the right-most gentleman.

That same gentleman has a machine with a crank on his desk. I believe it is a machine that holds multipart carbon forms, usually invoices. You write the order on the top of the machine where there's a form exposed. When the crank is turned, one part of the form comes out and the others are retained inside the machine. Machines like this were in use in my lifetime until almost all "points of sale" became computerized.

Notice that the desks seem to be two-sided "partner's" desks. No privacy - you worked in your desk-mate's face all day.

The woman in the left background has an adding machine with a paper tape on a roll-around cart. Adding machines were expensive and had to be shared, hence the cart.

There are a lot of other interesting-looking objects which I cannot make out. There's a dark object near the woman in the background that might be a printing press!

I'm writing this sitting at a 1927 oak double-pedestal office desk, but it is not a "partner's desk" with drawers on both sides, although the "kneehole" does go through so that any visitor can pull up a chair and write comfortably.

John Ruth
I'm glad you liked that, John, and found some items of interest to identify.

If only I been more forward thinking I could have saved more of the items in that shop. For example, I do have a small bunch of their paperwork, but I'll bet I could have have the complete business files for eighty years or so if I'd been smart enough to think of it in 1975 or so.
I swear that the flourescents in the second shot are the same ones I have in my basement. They are made by Miller (that's the name cast into the triangula end plates).

My house was built in 1956 by a boilermaker that worked at GE. He probably got them from GE when they were replacing them. I'm in the middle of replacing the balasts in them. All the wiring in them is hard and brittle, but the housings are build like tanks.


You are welcome. Examining and discussing the details of old photos is one of the things I like the most about this forum! (Where's LatheFan these days? Asquith is still at it, though!) I'd be REALLY pleased if others found items to comment upon in the pictures!

You cannot save everything; where would you put it?

There's a clock in the glassed-in office at the rear. And the middle-aged lady seems to have a dark hat hung on the wall nearby. Did you know that most men would not go out on the street hatless until about 1960?

I'd like to know what it was like to work in an un-air-conditioned office in a Philadelphia summer!!! I live less than two hours away, and a summer in these parts is a humid sweaty season!

Steve M:

If you replace the ballasts, you won't have the pleasant "TING!" when the starter cycles!

He He He, I'll bet the young squirts don't even know what a florescent starter IS ! :)

On the plus side, you know what the old ballasts are likely to be filled with - and we dare not speak its name.

An empty desk is the sign of an empty mind !!! 5'x6' would give you enough room to lay out a large blueprint for study and still have enough room to work.

John Ruth

It is comforting to know that my home shop lighting is up to 1941 standards. I have quite a few of the old green/white porcelain fixtures.