Purinton, Edward Earle, "Machines instead of men", "The Independent, vol. 97, pp. 92, 93, 100. January, 1919

transcription / facsimile news article




THE optimist and the pessimist were having an argument, and the result of this argument was remarkable. For these two natural foes became as mild as lambs, walked in the same narrow path of brotherly harmony, and together reached a pinnacle of progress where they stood contented and serene.

The firm of Root and Larkin was half pessimist, half optimist. Caleb Root was a little, dried- up sort of man, with an outlook on life as narrow as his shoulders and as dark as his skin. Tom Larkin was a big, overflowing personality, radiant with health and high spirits, broad in outlook as the sea, brave as the wind, hopefully as the dawn.

 A.W. Shaw & Co.                                                
 Every man in this office is equipt with a dictaphone to save   
time and expense.                                               

Personally they were the best of friends. But in their official viewpoint they were as far apart as the Sahara Desert and the Mississippi River. Root, being older and wealthier, was senior partner. So Larkin had to fight for all he got. Being an optimist, he was the better fighter of the two, as we shall see presently.

The partners conducted a business house that supplied certain products to the trade. Located in a small town, far from the centers of business competition and the evolution created by competition, they had fallen behind in their methods of handling business routine. Larkin for years had felt this keenly. But Root stuck to the old-fashioned ways, and there was no budging him from the beaten track.

Then the war came, and with it a complete change of business conditions. Prices were regulated, costs were increased, materials were reduced, shipments were delayed, men were drafted, women and boys had to do most of the work.

The office routine was demoralized. The advertising, mailing, bookkeeping and other departments were all shot to pieces with blunders and delays.

Late one night, after going thru the books, they wrestled with the problem. Here the fight began. "We must retrench," declared the senior partner. "The only way to prevent bankruptcy is to cut down expenses. I think we should call in Williams from the road, put him in charge of the office."

The junior partner questioned this move. "Williams is our star salesman. The others on the road are all new. They need his example and influence, we need the profits he turns in."

Root smiled a bitter smile. "Why fool ourselves with hopes of large sales when we can't handle right the business we do get? We can make Williams office manager and save our endless worry over office matters now going wrong."

Larkin protested. "Give me a week to figure on the whole problem. If we can't find a better solution, I'll agree to the plan you suggest." Root grumbled, "One week --no more," and reached for his hat.

Larkin caught the midnight train to the nearest large city. Next day he spent with a noted business counsellor and efficiency engineer. The fee was $100 a day, but Larkin was convinced that the man he saw could deliver the goods. In three days Larkin was back, with a plan in his pocket.

"We can save money, save Williams and save ourselves by a very simple and easy method. For half the yearly salary Williams would expect, we can put in a modern set of office machines that will do 75 per cent of our routine work, do it without an error, do it from two to five times as fast as our employees now take for their hand-operated system. And tho our payroll will be less, the salaries may be larger, making everybody better satisfied."

"Huh!" interrupted Root, "you expect me to believe a miracle will happen right before my eyes, do you? Well, it won't, and you're wasting time figuring on such a possibility."

"Of course I knew you would demand proof," smiled Larkin--"so I just brought it along. We have here Exhibits A, B and C. First in Exhibit A a complete statement of average costs--from hundreds of offices in the United States--of routine operations such as counting, sorting, folding, stamping, sealing, addressing, billing, bookkeeping, adding, estimating, copying, cost finding,

A.W. Shaw & Co.                      
Machines that sort cards punched     
with tiny holes to                   
indicate certain information, turn   
them out at the rate                 
of 250 a minute                      

listing, duplicating, dictating. Then we compare Exhibits B, which offers attested figures showing costs of the same operations when performed by machines. Will you look over the two lists?"

"Oh yes, I'll look 'em over," grudgingly assented the senior partner, "but I won't promise to be convinced. Your Exhibit B, as you call it, was of course furnished by the dealers or manufacturers of these wonder- working machines. They want to sell machines, and I wouldn't trust their machines or their figures."

Larkin said nothing, for he held in his pocket Exhibit C, which would utterly sweep away the last objection. So Root spent a silent half hour, comparing the cost sheets.

But the senior partner still had his doubts. "Where did you get these facts?" he queried. "How do you know they are impartial and reliable?" Forthwith Larkin drew from his pocket a bundle of papers on which the label "Exhibit C" boldly stood out. "We have here," he replied, "attested copies of statements regarding the use of office machines from officials of the leading business and professional concerns of the United States. They don't lie. And they aren't fools."

The senior partner read as follows. (We condense the statements a little, but can vouch for their accuracy because we know the names of the firms using these machines and also the names of the manufacturers selling them.)

An official of the largest merchandising organization of its kind in the world wrote thus: "We sell over $150,000,000 worth of goods a year. We don't employ a single salesman. We handle the entire business from a mailing list of 6,000,000 handled by a modern system of addressing machines. One of which is capable of printing 4000 addresses per hour."

Another statement from a smelting and refining company: "Where formerly our mailing list requirements kept five people steadily employed addressing market reports and literature sent to customers, we are now able to accomplish this same result with one employee. The machine installed a few months ago has given us such eminent satisfaction in the handling of our mailing list that we have been wondering how we got along for so many years without it."

From the secretary of a national fraternal organization: "Where before it took hours to do my work, now it is a matter of only a few minutes. The machine is so easy to operate that my little boy five years old gets out my list each month."

From a lumber company: "We use a machine for getting out circular letters, report blanks, price lists, shipping tickets, scale cards and stock sheets. It has saved its cost a dozen times."

From an automobile supply company: "A single duplicating machine has printed over a million copies of one of our commercial publications and saved us more than $1000."

From a large ink manufacturing company: "Our adding machine has stood the test of ten years of service. Two of them have gone the whole route without repairs. We started with one machine. Now we have six."

From a big publishing house: "The mailing machine used by us does with one girl the mailing work of eight or ten. It seals, stamps and counts 250 letters a minute at a cost of 10 cents per 1000. It handles any envelope or circular. It guards against loss of stamps by theft or mutilation. It gives clean, accurate mailing. It gets out the sales messages on time. It steps into the gaps in our office and sales departments. And it saves $2100 a year for our company."

From a clergyman: "For two years we have used an office machine for our duplication work. We do not understand how any up- to- date church or business house can do without one."

From a manufacturer of men's garments: "We were told that the right way to get accuracy into a bookkeeping department was with a modern posting machine. We tried it. We got accuracy because accuracy is automatic when a good machine keeps the books. We also noticed that the new methods were making merely daily routine of the work that used to pile up and be troublesome. Instead of needing more help, we found that we had time to do things better and had the means, too. The machine has absorbed so much additional work beyond that for which we bought it, that it paid back its full purchase price during the first year."

From the cashier of the world's largest makers of steel wire and cable: "Our bookkeeping machine has taken the grind out of the daily work."

From the operating office of a large railroad: "One or two calculating machines in the offices of the division superintendents saved three clerks, which means $2500 a year in each of six offices, after the saving had paid for the machine in about five weeks. The machines are ten times faster than rail tables on rail extensions. For verifying payrolls they are wonderful. Any man can use the machine after an hour's demonstration."

From the chief accountant of a machine factory: "There is 75 per cent less rush on payroll work, since machines have taken over the greater part of the labor connected with it. Our girls easily picked up the operation of the machine, and have developed a speed which disposes of the ever growing volume of work without additional strain."

From the paymaster of a United States naval training station: "To pay 20,000 men is a mighty big task. But with an office machine we can do all the work on each payroll in a couple of days, when it used to take us close to three weeks."

From the controller of the world's most famous manufacturer of watches: "We use the accounting machine for balance sheets, profit and loss, cost, payroll, auditing, budget, overhead, reports, schedule and statistical work. Each machine pays for itself over again at least once a year, thru its great speed and accuracy."

From the vice- president of one of the five largest packing houses in the United States: "We formerly used fourteen men on our customers' ledgers. We installed eight accounting machines and now eight girls handle a much larger volume of business. Each operator averages 5000 postings per week."

From the office manager of a large motorcycle factory: "The machine system we have installed eliminates errors. It double- checks checks every operation. It furnishes daily inventory. It gives totals of each day's billing. It supplies ready- made trial balance. It permits statements to be mailed on the second, instead of the eighth of the month or thereabouts as formerly." (The names of manufacturers of office machine referred to in the statements above may be had on request from the Independent Efficiency Service, 119 West Fortieth Street. New York, if self- addressed, stamped envelope is enclosed.)

All this was too much evidence--even for the grumpy old senior partner. "You win," he admitted. "However, I shall insist on one condition, that all machines be installed on the basis of free trial and guaranteed operation. Any loss we incur must be borne by the maker of the machine."

The junior partner, filled with enthusiasm, regarded this precaution unnecessary, but finally conceded the point. He placed an order for a machine outfit costing about $1000. He could have started the experiment with one $50 machine, but being an optimist he was afflicted with prematurely expansive ideas, and made his initial order twenty times as large as it should have been.


All went well for a few days. Then it developed that this concern had peculiarities and necessities that the machines ordered were not prepared to accommodate. There is as much difference between various kinds of office machines as there is between various breeds of horses or various makes of automobiles. One must know the product of all manufacturers before he can safely buy any.

These particular machines did not give entire satisfaction. Old Caleb Root was grimly joyful. He gave orders that when the free trial period of a month should be over, the machines were to be thrown out.

Larkin rushed to New York and made a personal inspection of a score of different machines. At last he came upon the very one that suited him, signed a personal contract for installation with preliminary free trial, took a sample machine back with him as personal baggage, and reached the office a day before the month was out on the other machines. It was up to him to make good in twenty- four hours. Did he? He did.

He selected a couple of the best workers, offered them triple time to stay on the job till midnight, had the new machine delivered while the senior partner was at dinner, and to this gentleman said nothing about the evening work ahead. With his two helpers he spent four hours mastering the details of the new machine. By midnight they could work it. They all went home in a taxi, got a few hours sleep, and were in the office again before the senior partner came next morning. When he arrived, the new machine was turning out the most beautiful results imaginable. No bother, no hitch, no mistakes anywhere.

A sample of the product lay on the desk of the senior partner, with an attached note containing the words, "Respectfully submitted for your approval," and signed with the initials of the junior partner. The old man rubbed his eyes, looked hard at the elegant sheet of blameless character, spoke a word not used in theological seminaries, and left abruptly for Larkin's office. "Where did this come from?" the old man snorted. "From our agreement that does not expire till this afternoon," Larkin answered. "The machines we have tried for a month will be returned to the maker as you ordered, but a better machine has been set up as I ordered. By the terms of our agreement both orders will stand." Root saw the point. "You win" he said.

The fiscal year came to a close. Root and Larkin were examining the books together on the last day of the year. The new machines had paid for themselves twice over, and left the business in shape to reduce expenses and thus increase profits next year anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent. With the complete statement before them Root and Larkin both fell to thinking.

Root spoke first. "I must be getting old and feeble- minded. We should have lost thousands of dollars if you had listened to me when I wanted to keep antiquated methods in the office." Larkin stopped him --"What about that thousand dollars or more that we should have lost buying the first set of machines if I had not listened to you? We're about even on the deal. And I have been thinking that hereafter we would do better if each of us listened more and argued less. You naturally look downhill, I naturally look uphill, so to keep on the level and move forward rapidly we should always try to balance between the different viewpoints. Let's take for our motto next year Adjustment--Not Argument." The senior partner answered "Right!" and they shook hands. Thus theoptimist and the pessimist were reconciled, marvelous to relate. And they all lived happily ever after, which is the proper way for the story of any life experience to end.

Now we come to the point of the story. Why should not investigation and adoption of the best office machines and appliances be as universal as the need for their use and the advantage from it? We have mentioned about a score of endorsements by concerns of the highest standing. Letters of approval and appreciation might be quoted from hundreds of other commercial, industrial and professional organizations and institutions --all pointing in the same direction, all urging the office manager to buy and use more office machines.

Wherever a good office machine is available, it offers ten probable advantages over the crude, unscientific method of doing the job by hand. These are speed, accuracy, legibility, economy, safety, uniformity, health, production, liberation, promotion.

A good machine works about ten times faster than the human hand or brain. It never makes a mistake. It presents a result neat, legible and certain. It operates at a cost of 10 to 50 per cent less than the old- fashioned way. It prevents confusion, misunderstanding, waste, loss of life or property. It puts the various departments of the business on a standardized basis. It reduces for employees the liability to fatigue, eye strain, occupational diseases, functional and nervous disorders. It boosts production without demanding overtime. It liberates high officials for higher work, and employees on large pay for specialized duties that deserve large pay. It hastens promotion of minor employees by helping them to work their hands faster and thus earn more, and their heads better and thus prepare for better positions.

There are now more than sixty office operations reliably, quickly and inexpensively performed by machines. A list of the principal ones appears in the diagram headed "Office Machine Gage." Whether a complete outfit of mechanical appliances will save money, time and trouble in your office remains for you to decide, but the chances are that you need twice as many machines as you have. When you are convinced that you need more help of this kind, or at least that you should investigate the possibilities, the part of wisdom then is not to buy any machine till the maker of it has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that his machine is unqualifiedly the best for your purpose.

For example, there are a dozen popular adding machines on the market, each claiming superiority over the others. And the same is true of typewriting machines, duplicating machines, time recording machines, bookkeeping machines. How are you going to pick the best? By the rigid application of certain advance tests of both manufacturer and machine. The following series of tests was deduced from a comparative study of the method and character of the largest and best manufacturers of office machines. The items appear in chronological order-- not in order of relative importance. You will find upon investigation that the most reliable manufacturer of a superior office machine does the following things:

He advertises regularly in trade papers and business journals.

He publishes free literature of general information. He wants and tries to help you do your work better no matter whether he sells you a machine or not. You should find his literature valuable apart from the advertising features.