By way of illustration, in the private sector:
Regarding the public sector, it has been reported that in 1800 the Treasury Department had 50 clerical workers. (Mary Clemmer Ames, Ten Years in Washington, 1876, p. 293) "In 1831 President Andrew Jackson and 665 other civilians ran all three branches of the federal government in Washington." (Beniger, p. 14) In 1835, the U.S. Patent Office had six employees, including a messenger. (Kenneth W. Dobyns, The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office, 1994) According to another source, in 1836 the Patent Office consisted of nine people: a commissioner, a chief clerk, an examiner, a draftsman, and five clerks. "In 1841 there were only sixty-four employees in the [U.S.] Treasury Department, and the Pension Office was run by four clerks and one messenger." (Mrs. John A. Logan, Thirty Years in Washington, 1901, p. 468) Before the Civil War, the only American data-processing bureaucracy of any importance was the Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C. In 1840, the Census Bureau had 28 clerks. That number grew to 184 in 1860. (Campbell-Kelly and Aspray, pp. 20-21)
According to Anderson (1976, p. 9), in Britain, "Even by
the first world war, when the large-scale departmentalised office was very much
a reality, most commercial clerks continued to work in small offices."
Railroads were the earliest large U.S. corporations. The first railroad began operating in 1830. In 1856, the railroad industry ranked first in the US in terms of value of publicly traded securities. (Robert Sobel, The Big Board, 1965, p. 58) Beginning in the 1850s, railroad and telegraph companies were the first to create hierarchies of business units controlled by salaried managers. (Beniger, p. 255) "In the 1850s, large railroads were already employing from forty to sixty salaried managers." (Olivier Zunz, Making America Corporate, 1870-1920, 1990, pp. 40-41, 130) "By 1860 the railroads probably employed more accountants and auditors than the federal or any state government." (Chandler 1977. p. 110) "Of all the economic institutions on the American scene in 1860, only the railroads qualified as big business." (Porter, p. 31)
Zunz reports that in 1880 the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroad employed 148
executives and several hundred clerical workers. The railroad employed 271
clerical workers at its Chicago headquarters. The headquarters purchasing department had
five middle-level executives and over 100 clerks. The general auditor's
department had six executives and about 30 clerks. The freight auditor's
department had two executives and 66 clerks. In 1883, the C. B. & Q. moved
into a new six-story office building, where approximately 300 of its employees
were located. In order to provide natural lighting from at least two sides, the
building (like other buildings of the period) had large rooms with windows
facing both the exterior and an interior court.
The development of railroad transportation and telegraph communications caused important changes in the way consumer goods were distributed. Small merchants operating on commission were replaced by large wholesalers that purchased from manufacturers and resold to retailers. During the late 1860s and the 1870s, wholesale houses developed multi-unit bureaucracies with specialized departments for purchasing, sales, advertising, orders, traffic and shipping, credit and collections, and accounting. In the 1870s, Alexander T. Steward, a major dry goods distributor, had two thousand employees in the US and abroad. (Beniger, pp. 254-57)
The number of U.S. companies employing large numbers of clerical workers appears to have grown rapidly after the mid-1870s. The earliest illustrations showing the interiors of large U.S. offices that we have found date from the mid-1870s. ( See the Museum's exhibits of illustrations of early office interiors by clicking here and then clicking on the chronological links at the top of page.) Sobel's discussion of the rise of Wall Street investment banking companies during 1873-1884 is consistent with this. The largest of these investment banking companies, which marketed new securities issues, were Drexel, Morgan & Co. and Kuhn, Loeb & Co. "The large investment concerns employed small armies of clerks, runners, recorders, bookkeepers, and salesmen, a marked contrast to the days when brokerages operated with a half-dozen clerks and the partners." (Sobol, pp. 111-12)
Insurance companies were among the largest early employers of clerical workers. "By the 1890s, insurance firms began to open branch offices operated by salaried employees and centrally managed through functionally specialized divisions like sales, operations, and investments." (Beniger, p. 392) In 1896, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. of New York's audit division alone had 550 clerks. The central filing system was maintained by 61 employees. Checks were processed by 32 clerks. In 1914, the company had 3,659 white collar workers at its headquarters building. The audit division had 1,000 clerks. The actuarial division had about 490. (Zunz, pp. 113-16)
In the meat packing industry, in 1905 "Swift's Chicago headquarters employed a clerical force of over a thousand." (Chandler 1977, p. 392) For a photo of a large Swift office, click here. In 1906, more than 9,000 people worked at the Sears, Roebuck mail order company in Chicago. Of this total, about 2,500 were managers and clerical workers. Clerical workers received the mail, entered orders and dispatched them to the merchandise building via pneumatic tubes, determined the most economic routings for shipments, handled correspondence, and kept records. The number of clerical workers included: order entry department, 500-600 (all in one room); stenographic department (where typists transcribed letters from dictating machine cylinders), 150-200; and card index filing department, 153. ("A Trip Through Sears, Roebuck & Co." (boxed set of 50 stereographs), 1906.) For photos of the Sears, Roebuck order entry and stenographic departments, click here and scroll down.
Unites States ~ Federal Government
In 1800, the State Department had eight employees. The first patent clerk was hired in 1802, and it was not until 1810 that an assistant was hired. Around 1836, the Patent Office had 17 employees. (Charles J. Robertson, Temple of Invention, 2006, p. 11) According to Ames (1876, p. 300), the number of clerks in the Treasury Department increased from 383 in 1861 to 2,000 in 1864. The number of clerks at the Census Bureau increased from 184 in 1860, to 438 in 1870 and 1,495 in 1880. (Campbell-Kelly and Aspray, pp. 20-21) By 1870, a large number of clerks were employed in a number of federal government offices in Washington, D.C. However, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) had only a small White House staff. "Hayes's staff of nine, which was headed by a private secretary, performed prosaic tasks, such as receiving visitors, sorting incoming correspondence, assembling files on potential appointees to office, answering routine mail, and copying letters and papers that Hayes, who usually did not dictate to the stenographer on his staff, had written out." (Ari Hoogenboom, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, 1988, p. 58)
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