The Mighty Office Machine

Did you ever consider the origins of your humble office machine?

An office is generally a room or area in which people work and conduct business. The office machine is any invention whose purpose is to aid that work. Below is a list of common office machines with background information and history on each individual office machine.

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A box of calculators
A box of calculators. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
William Seward Burroughs invented and patented the first workable adding and listing machine in St. Louis, Missouri in 1885. Before we had calculators we had slide rules. In 1632, the circular and rectangular slide rule was invented by Oughtred. An office machine that calculates is a god sent to accountants everywhere.

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In 1806, carbon paper was invented by Pellegrino Turri of Italy. However, the term "carbonated paper" was first used in 1860, when Englishman, Ralph Wedgwood was issued a patent for his "Stylographic Writer." Carbon paper used to be common sight offices however, today it is outmoded.

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check book
Open Check Book. Getty Images/Nicholas Eveleigh
The earliest record of a mechanical check protector is an 1872 advertisement for the National Safety Check Punch, which was patented by Cory & Brown on May 17, 1870, and sold by J. B. Parks of New York, NY.

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A Coffee Maker circa 1850 on display at the British Library in London, England
A coffee maker circa 1850 on display at the British Library in London, England. Getty Images
The modern-day espresso machine was created by Italian Achilles Gaggia in 1946. Gaggia invented a high pressure espresso machine by using a spring powered lever system. The photo to the left is of a coffee maker circa 1850 displayed at the British Library in London, England.

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Office Computer
Computers. Mary Bellis
A very common office machine is the computer. Many inventors contributed to the history of computers and a computer is a complex piece of machinery made up of many parts, each of which can be considered a separate invention.

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Male office worker using photocopier - a modern copy machine
Male office worker using photocopier - a modern copy machine. Getty Images/Christopher Robbins
In 1780, steam engine inventor James Watt obtained a British patent for letter copying presses, which James Watt & Co. produced beginning in that year.

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Computer engineer, Ray Tomlinson invented internet based email in late 1971.

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Modern Fax Machine
Modern Fax Machine. Joanna Kopik (StockXchnge)
The technology for fax machines was invented a long time, however, fax machines did not become popular with consumers until the 1980s and are now a common office machine.

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Fluorescent Lighting in Office
Fluorescent lighting above office cubicles. Getty Images/Noel Hendrickson
Friedrich Meyer, Hans Spanner, and Edmund Germer patented a fluorescent lamp in 1927.

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Legal Pads

The American Pad & Paper Company (Ampad) was founded in 1888 by Thomas W. Holley, who was a young employee of a local paper mill. Holley recognized a need for "inexpansive ruled pads of paper" and from his employeement at the mill knew of a paper source called "sortings" from the paper mills. Sortings were cheap because they were unsuitable for finer papers, however, they were perfect for Holley's making of low-cost lined pads, which came to be called legal pads.

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Demonstration of a Ricochet wireless mobile modem at the COMDEX Spring 2000
Demonstration of a Ricochet wireless mobile modem at the COMDEX Spring 2000. Getty Images
In 1962, the first commercial modem was manufactured - the Bell 103 by AT&T. The 56K modem was invented by Dr. Brent Townshend in 1996.

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The fastening of papers has been historical referenced to as early as the 13th century, when people put ribbon through parallel incisions in the upper left hand corner of pages.

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Paper Punch

Paper Punch
Paper Punch. USPTO
In 1885, Benjamin Smith of Massachusetts invented an improved hole punch with spring-loaded receptacle to collect the clippings.

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Go Get Yourself Pen And Paper
Go Get Yourself Pen And Paper. Mary Bellis
From cave paintings to the quill pen. How ink, paper and pens were all were invented

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Today, we see Post-it notes peppered across files, computers, desks, and doors in offices and homes throughout the country.

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Push Pin
Push Pin. Dave Dyet (StockXchng)
In 1900, Mr. Edwin Moore founded a new company with only $112.60. He rented a room and devoted each afternoon and evening to making push pins, his own invention. Push pins can be briefly described as "a pin with a handle."

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The revolving door was patented by Theophilus von Kannel (1841-1919) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 7, 1888. However, H. Bockhacker of Berlin was granted German patent DE18349 on December 22, 1881 for "Tür ohne Luftzug" or "Door without draft of air".

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Rolodex. morguefile
Arnold Neustadter and Hildaur Neilson invented the Rolodex, a rotating index file card holder, first marketed in 1958.

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Scotch Tape
Scotch Tape. Bjin Gudsson
Scotch tape was invented in 1930 by banjo playing 3M engineer Richard Drew. Scotch tape was the world's first transparent cellophane adhesive tape.

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Sir Flinders Petrie ascribes the development of cross-bladed shears to the First Century.

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The first stapling machine with a magazine that held a supply of preformed wire staples that were fed automatically to the staple-driving mechanism was patented in 1878.

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In the 1870s, two inventors Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell both independently designed devices that could transmit speech electrically (the telephone).

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Typewriter. LOC
Sholes was a U.S. mechanical engineer who invented the first practical modern typewriter, patented in 1868.

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Xerox. Designerd's Photos
In 1937, the process called Xerography was invented by American law student Chester Carlson. Carlson had invented a copying process based on electrostatic energy. Xerography became commercially available in 1950 by the Xerox Corporation. Xerography comes from the Greek for "dry writing".

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White Out
White Out. Morguefile
It was originally called "mistake out", the invention of Bette Nesmith Graham, a Dallas secretary and a single mother raising a son* on her own. Graham used her own kitchen blender to mix up her first batch of liquid paper or white out, a substance used to cover up mistakes made on paper.