Hotels with Staff

26 Aug

Back in the 1940s, hotels had far larger staff than the modern day. This description comes from October 1940 Popular Mechanics:


Imagine being host to from 2,000 to 4,000 guests a day. There are always that many registered at any one of New York’s largest hotels,  with two to three thousand employees to serve them. At least 5,000 visitors drop in daily for a meal or chat. That crowd would equal the  population of a good sized little city. The biggest hotels serve 12,000 meals a day. It takes a lot of food to be ready for such a crowd, and hundreds of tons of ice daily just to keep it in a fresh condition.

  • This isn’t the entire bakery, it’s merely the shop where bread and rolls for hotel patrons are baked.

One of the world’s largest hotels, located in New York, has four general kitchens to prepare food for its seven dining rooms, each of which has its own menu. Another kitchen specializes in preparing soup in fifty-gallon cauldrons. A bakeshop with ovens eighteen feet deep turns out 20,000 rolls, 700 loaves of bread, every day. But no pies or cakes or pastries – these are made in still another bakery. There is even an ice-cream chef with his special kitchen, turning out 400 gallons of frozen desserts.

They freeze their own ice. Some of it, chopped by a machine which macerates an entire 300-pound cake at a time, is served on the table with oysters, grapefruit or wines. Air is circulated through other cakes to keep them crystal clear; then a machine containing rows of revolving saws cuts the cakes into cubes for your glass of water or iced beverage.

This same hotel’s laundry washes and irons sixty to seventy thousand pieces each day. A guest can arrive at midnight, have his clothes washed, his suit pressed, and arise at eight o’clock to find everything clean, stowed neatly in his bedroom door. The secret of speed is in drying. Water is forced from the washed clothes by centrifugal extractors, until they are just right for ironing. A battery of ironers turns out shirts two a minute. The first machine presses the collar, the next does the front, a third irons the back, while the sleeves are pressed and creased on heated metal arms. The last machine turns down the collar, irons the shoulders and cuffs, after which any missing buttons are sewed on by another machine. A woman then touches up each shirt with a hand iron. After that they are folded on a gadget that does everything but think; then a pasteboard cover is slipped on.

One woman irons all socks by slipping them over a heated metal foot. There are four feet in a line, by the time she places a sock on the fourth, the first one is ready to come off. Socks having holes are darned on a machine in the time it would take you to thread a needle.

  • Power plant for lights, machinery and elevators.

The hotel’s electric plant in the subbasement supplies current to run the elevators, light 25,000 electric bulbs, recondition the air. The hotel itself contains 1,020 miles of electric wire, and this doesn’t include wiring for the 3,340 telephones. Two huge compressors furnish air for the pneumatic tubes, the laundry presses, and to agitate the ice. A central vacuum cleaner in the subbasement has 324 outlets. There are 112 miles of plumbing pipes, carrying hot, cold, and ice water to the 2,200 rooms. In summer 15,000 gallons of ice water are cooled each day, while 45,000 gallons of hot water are used – half a barrel a second.

  • There’s nothing on your floor to blaze except the bedding and what you bring with you, but the hotel’s own fire department is ready for anything.

The hotel has its own fire department, with as large a personnel as you will find in a city of 100,000. Every male employe is a member, has his own station, his special duties to perform should the alarm be sounded. There is a fire truck in the basement, with hose, chemical extinguishers and smoke masks, yet small enough to ride the elevators.

  • A hotel telephone switchboard big enough for a small city – which a metropolitan hotel really is.

The telephone switchboard is the largest private exchange in the world, its thirty five operators handling 250,000 calls a month. For three hours each morning seven operators do nothing but awaken guests. Supplementing the telephones are several miles of pneumatic tubes, three telautograph systems, and a private teletype, all for the speedy transmission of messages.

  • Floor clerk’s message transmitter.

  • Battery of pneumatic tubes in hotel’s message center.

Does the faucet in your room drip? You tell the operator, who writes a message on the telautograph. A woman in the message center tears off this note, places it in a tube cartridge, where it is shot by compressed air direct to the plumber in the subbasement. Does somebody call you when you’re out and leave a message? The operator writes it on the telautograph, and the pneumatic tube shoots it to your floor clerk, who hands it to you when you ask for your key upon returning.

  • Information clerks tell you if the John Smiths of Dubuque are registered.

A big hotel is really a complete city under one roof. One could come to New York over any of several railroads, step directly from the station into the lobby of half a dozen of the biggest hotels. Using the sub way system and underground walks, he could shop in the department stores, do business in many office buildings, attend the theater without ever stepping out of doors. He could even undergo a major operation in the hotel’s own hospital.

  • New arrivals are shown to suite by bell boy.

  • Glasses are washed, hand dried and polished, sterilized and wrapped in Cellophane.


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