Taking Payroll Literally

The word payroll first appears in the English language around 1765, according to Webster’s. While I’m pretty sure the “roll” part comes from the concept of “roll call” or “muster roll” (which probably itself came from such things being recorded on rolled-up scrolls), I like the way this Dey Time Register time clock at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum brings the word full circle.

Employee Time Clock ca. 1900. The device is rather straight forward, even though it looks intimidating. The main difference to today’s time clocks is that, rather than having individual time cards for each employee, all times were recorded together on a roll of paper inside the clock. Each employee had a number, located on one of the buttons on the front of the clock. By moving the arm to the number location and pressing the arm into the hole next to the number, the print head inside the clock would stamp the time and the employee number on the (pay-) roll. (Apologies to Paulie and Jessamin for sharing their appropriately delighted reflections.)

I also love what a time capsule the curator card itself is, with that typeface and its comparison of this ca 1900 time clock to “today’s time clocks.” I imagine “today” was some time in the 1950s or 60s. Though to be fair, the last time I transferred a client from paper time cards to an online system was in the 2010s…

Have you ever wondered what workers for the San Francisco Cable Car system do, if they’re not conductors? How they keep the cable cars rolling? The museum is housed in the system’s working central powerhouse, and admission is free. It’s well worth a visit.

Powerhouse in the San Francisco Cable Car Museum- San Francisco, California, USA. Photo by Daderot

Illustration of an analog numeric typewriter, superimposed on a paper chart of printed numbers.

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