It sits in break rooms, workplaces, foyers, and just about everywhere else: A humble box with a slot, a pad of paper, and a pencil asking for suggestions. Yet despite its simplicity, the suggestion box has a surprising history. Here’s what you never knew about this little box.
It Started As A Political Tool
There’s an ongoing argument as to just when the suggestion box was invented: Japan in the 18th century (where only the Tokugawa emperor had the key), the British Navy, Iran, and the US all have possible contenders.
What is clear is that it first became widely known in the 19th century, and it was designed to save politicians time. A “petition box” or “box of justice” was used to collect information about minor matters that would otherwise gum up the works of democracy, or to offer direct feedback anonymously so officials could address these matters.
People Struggled To Fill Them From The Start
It’s not often that you see a full suggestion box in the wild. Even though it’s ideal for people who are shy or just want to stay anonymous to offer feedback, complaints that they’re not being used date back to at least the 1920s. Those are paired with some rather awkward ideas to keep them filled, like making suggestions mandatory. Fortunately, Eastman Kodak had a slightly more popular idea: Paying employees for their opinions.
World War II Launched It Into Widespread Use
During World War II, the American government was continually looking for new ways to do more with less, whether it was getting more out of factory workers’ time on the line or getting more out of the resources available. As a result, there was a massive push to make it a patriotic duty to write out a suggestion and put it in the box, reminding everyone that their good idea wasn’t limited to just their factory, but would spread to the entire country.
After the war, the suggestion box was so commonplace, and so accepted, that they popped up in practically every workplace in America. Stories of people making thousands with the right suggestion only made them more popular.
It Went Digital To Handle Volume
As companies began to grow, and managers and employees took on more tasks, the physical suggestion box began to be left behind. It would either sit empty because workers were too busy to take the time, or be crammed full as managers kept pushing opening the box and sorting the information further down their to-do lists.
In the early 2000s, digital suggestion boxes began to catch on, especially as email on the organizational level became more commonplace as a productivity tool. Eventually, data tools were built to sift through all the suggestions and create entire platforms that do far more than just gathering suggestions.
Now people can read anonymous suggestions, vote on them, offer opinions of their own. Finally, they can follow those suggestions through the innovation process, from the raw ore of an idea all the way to a finished result.