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The History of Filing Cabinets

Filing cabinets emerged in 1891 and one of the contributors to their invention was reportedly Melvil Dewey, who had invented the Dewey Decimal System 15 years prior. Filing cabinets allowed businesses to become more efficient. Instead of being trapped in cumbersome ledgers, information was now easily accessible in vertical file drawers. By 1920, filing cabinets could be found in the offices of every business as well as in professors’ offices, the offices of clergy members, newspaper offices, and offices of charities, too. Filing cabinets — and the filing they required — also opened a narrow window for women to begin entering the workforce. Files and filing cabinets played an integral role in business for the better part of century, but by the 1990s, filing cabinets had become associated with inefficiency. Eventually, they were replaced by digital copies. It’s worth noting that some fields still require large amounts of physical files to be kept on hand, so the filing cabinet is far from extinct. Additionally, its legacy lives on in the way we organize information digitally. The way we put files into folders on our desktops and manage online content with browser tabs demonstrates that filing cabinets weren’t just physical items — they also introduced an entirely new way of thinking about and organizing information that is still relevant today.

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