Pabco Gypsum Division of Fiberboard Products Corp.

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

Long before the modern cubicle became popular in the 1960s, prefabricated office wall partition systems that simulated stick built walls were available. By the 1930s, there were several major manufacturers of office partitions systems, most of whom offered railing systems—the architectural grandparent of today’s cubicle—with optional glazing. The BTHL provides an overview of the stylistic evolution of office partitions following changing fashions, from traditional wood panel systems in the 1920s to minimal Miesian models in the 1960s.

Add-A-Unit Office and Bank Partitions: Catalog no. 35, Add-A-Unit, c. 1920
This pre-fab wall partition system used traditional woodwork similar to furniture construction. A precursor to cubicle systems, railing systems in varied heights were also available. Bank systems with metal upper grillage were Add-A-Unit's specialty.

Masterwalls by Hauserman, E.F. Hauserman Co., Cleveland, Ohio, 1938
The E. F. Hauserman Co. was an industry leader in the development of partitions systems. This 1938 catalog features both full-height wall systems and railing systems with and without glazing. Its Masterwall system was used in the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Rockefeller Center.

Snead Dynamic Walls in Metal and Glass, Snead and Co., Jersey City, N.J., 1938
“Snead Walls are permanent yet movable“ captures a popular marketing theme of the metal partitions. By marketing their products as capable of “[modernizing] old buildings with movable walls," Snead and Co. expands potential client pools from new construction to retrofit projects.

Mills Metal Partitions, Mills Co., Cleveland, Ohio, 1938
The Mills Co. was a pioneer in the development of metal partitions systems. The “Executive Partitions” were “designed to meet the demand for beauty and quiet dignity, as well as durability and interchangeability.”

Johns-Manville Transite Movable Asbestos Walls, Johns-Manville Corp., New York, 1948
The Johns-Manville partition system utilized a 1.75-inch solid core panel that was faced with a 1/8-inch asbestos fiber cement wall panel, with its trademark name, Transite. The system featured a raised base for electric wiring and innovative movable walls.

Mowalco Interior Partitions, Movable Wall Corp., Covina, Calif., 1960
The Mowalco interior partitions used aluminum extrusions and flat panels in a variety of materials—gypsum, sandalwood, vinyl, and plastic—for a flush, modern look.

Eastern's Movable Partition System, Eastern Products Corp., Baltimore, c 1960
The Eastern partition system was an all-steel system of top and bottom tracks, batten covers, and painted steel panels.

New Movable Pabcowall System, Pabco Gypsum Division of Fiberboard Products Corp., San Francisco, 1961
The Pabcowall was a 2-foot-wide, full-height gypsum panel that was fitted into a slotted top and bottom track.

Movable Vaughan Walls of Laminated Gypsum Panel, Vaughan Interior Walls Inc., Los Angeles, 1961
Vaughan walls were full-height laminated gypsum panels that could be finished in a variety of materials, such as steel, aluminum, or wood. The modular system had a one-hour fire resistance rating but, with smooth taped joints, can achieve a two-hour fire rating with reduced mobility.

A Mills Metal Partition for Every Purpose, Mills Co., Cleveland, 1931
Metal partition systems that replicated traditional woodwork components were one of the most common forms of early office partitions. Mills Co. also produced partitions for bathroom stalls and hospital cubicles.

Wright Metal Partitions: Interchangeable, Wright Metal Inc., Jamestown, N.Y., 1931
Wright Metal Inc. advertises metal partitions with interchangeable doors and panels for optimum flexibility. This catalog also highlights the construction simplicity and durability, proclaiming "the finish is permanent."