Filing Cabinet Icon. Most people don’t give file cabinets more than a passing thought. Vertical? Lateral? Standard issue black? Wallflower beige? The truth is, there is a lot more to it than just the metal boxes with two or four drawers that we keep car titles, marriage licenses, and tax records in.
Today, they exist not only to hold 8.5 by 11 inch stacks of paper, but to hold CDs, DVDs, and other forms of media. Not only do they come equipped with locks these days, but they also come with other features like fireproofing, or built in wheels for easy movement from one part of the office to another. As the office has evolved, so has the file cabinet. It’s worth checking out what the world encompasses today. Its way more than the standard metal rectangular parallelepiped we’re all used to.
To choose the best possible solution for your needs, you have to ask yourself what you plan to put into it, where it will be located, how often you’ll need to get at what’s inside, and whether one style or color would add to your office decor.
A glass-topped, a mobile pedestal, or even a standard issue metal with a custom paint job can add to your office rather than remain neutral, since the standard beige or black file cabinet is so ubiquitous as to be almost unnoticeable. One young attorney bought her first, a metal one, and had it custom painted the color violet, in honor of the favorite color of her late grandmother who had helped pay for her to go to law school. Who says something as functional as a file cabinet can’t be fabulous, meaningful, or both?
The file cabinet is believed to have been invented by Edwin G. Seibels in 1898. Use of a cabinet where paper documents could be stored vertically rather than horizontally was neater and simpler than the use of systems of shelves that had been used prior to that time. Later, people stacked the vertical files on top of each other to keep the floor footprint of the cabinets to a minimum.
The lateral file cabinet, which orders files from side to side instead of from front to back, came along later. Generally wider and lower to the ground, lateral file cabinets are easier for non-tall office workers to use.
File cabinets revolutionized the workplace, ordering and organizing reams of paperwork so that it was readily accessible. But Seibels’ file cabinet was far from the only style in use as the 19th century came to a close. Cabinets for lawyers and railroads were made to accommodate legal documents that by custom were folded twice before filing. And pigeon hole cabinets came equipped with flat drawer files, revolving stands, and bookcases.
After more than a century of steadily increasing use, file cabinets have become silent witnesses to history, living containers detailing lives, business deals, legal rulings, manuscripts, and, in the case of the notable literary icon Dorothy Parker, her ashes, which resided in a file cabinet at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland for 40 years.
In 2007, Susannah Morris of Christie’s Auction House in London unearthed 500 years of historical documents that had been collected from 1973 until 2005 by a Swiss man named Albin Schram. His first purchase was a 1795 love letter from Napoleon to future wife Josephine. Also in Mr. Schram’s remarkable collection was a letter written by Charlotte Bronte, plus letters written by Monet, Gandhi, Tchaikovsky, Hemingway, Newton, and Dostoevsky.
On a much lighter note, the world’s tallest file cabinet is located in Burlington, Vermont, erected in 2002 by architect Bren Alvarez. Her monolith is a stack of 11 metal ones stacked and welded together, with 38 drawers altogether. Each of the 38 drawers represents one year in the life of a road project begun in 1965, when the Southern Connector road was proposed as a link between downtown Burlington and Interstate 89. Only one small section of the connector has been built thus far, and it was used for a time as a skateboard park. Alvarez’s sculpture is stabilized by a steel post running through the middle of all the file cabinets.
File cabinets may have an undeserved reputation as boring – just another dinosaur like the fax machine in this age of virtual this and electronic that. But it has held more history in its 100 or so years of use than we can even imagine. They exist simply to serve, and today, with all the style choices available, they can look good doing it too!