A fifer was a guy in military or ceremonial contexts who played the fife. If you don't know what a fife is: it is a small instrument that resembles a pipe, which is where it gets its name from. Oftentimes, fifer soldiers were boys too young to take part in the military or the sons of non-commissioned officers.
They maintained the marching pace of battalions and relayed orders in musical signals through the fife instrument. This instrument successfully signaled commands due to the high-pitched sounds that echoed over the battle sounds. Fifers were particularly common in the 18th and 19th centuries and played a big part in the American Revolutionary War.
Who doesn't love the smell of freshly roasted coffee? Coffee sniffers quite possibly had the best job that has ever existed. They prowled the streets of Prussia, sniffing and seeking out potential coffee tax evaders. They wore uniforms and bore the authority of the King, Frederick II.
In the late 18th century, this Prussian king was snooping around in Prussian neighborhoods to try and catch whoever was roasting coffee beans illegally. This was all part of a plan to raise money for this poverty-stricken, post-war nation by taxing the living daylights out of coffee consumers. The king's father, Frederick I, declared these holy beans a luxury good, so his son saw this as an ideal opportunity to make some serious coin.
Everyone knows what a calculator is but has anyone ever heard of a human calculator? Dating back to around the early 1600s, human calculators, usually women, would compute and analyze numbers by hand, day in and day out. Yup, you heard that correctly, and no calculators were available.
It's funny to think how much we take calculators for granted these days. They're on our phones, and we always just whip them out without even thinking twice about how far we've come. Sigh! These human calculators, also known as human computers, frequently worked in teams on the same calculations to ensure the precision and accuracy of whatever sums they worked on.
Back in the glory days when refrigeration was not invented yet, people tried all sorts of things to prevent food from spoiling. There were all sorts of techniques ranging from fermenting foods to curing and drying meats, and then there were ice blocks.
The harrowing task of ice cutters was to harvest ice manually from frozen bodies of water, like lakes, ponds, rivers, and such, during cold winter months. Ice blocks were a great way to keep temperatures low to store food to prevent spoilage. In the early 1900s, refrigerators for the household were invented and saved the ice cutters from their laborious job.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, hat peddlers were a familiar presence in bustling markets and streets of urban areas, as well as the countryside and small towns. Hat peddlers roamed, hawking goods, in this case, hats, to sell to the general public.
They traveled with a grand display of hats fastened to their bodies or schlepped them around in portable compartments, providing door-to-door service to whoever wanted to buy a hat. They catered to everyone and anyone, carrying hats of different styles and sizes. As retail evolved and the shopping experience narrowed down to centralized shopping areas, hat peddlers became obsolete.
Cotton Beamers, also known as "drawer-ins," played a big part in textile manufacturing in the thriving cotton industry of the Industrial Revolution. Cotton beamers had the not-so-beaming job of maneuvering beams of yarn about. This was a tedious job, as yielding one bale of cotton demanded over 600 hours of labor in its early days.
In the mid-1800s, America became a cotton superstar. Called "King Cotton," southern America turned cotton into the backbone of the region's economy. Sadly the cornerstone of cotton workers before the mid-1800s was led by enslaved African Americans. After slavery was abolished, cotton remained a large source of revenue for the States, but this occupation was replaced by machinery in the mid-19th century.
The title Catchpole was a lot more quirky than the actual occupation. Stemming from the early English term "cace" and the early Latin term "pullus" (meaning chick), the role of catchpole, otherwise known as a debt collector, came to life. Debt collectors are, of course, still around today, but their title seems a bit less ludicrous, and their practice is a bit more constitutional than their historical counterparts.
Catchpoles had the power to arrest debtors and snatch valuable goods and usually did so in abusive and aggressive fashions. Catchpoles were to be avoided at all costs as they moved around with intimidation, threats, and physical force to collect debts, at times leading to public outcry.
Thanks to the birth of centralized water reserve systems, this laborious job of lugging water around no longer exists. But before we were as privileged as we are today with running water (which we take for granted), water carriers collected and carried containers of water about to sell to the general public.
The hardest part was probably transporting the water, which was usually collected from water sources such as rivers or water wells. In the late 1800s, this was a popular occupation in China, during the Qing Dynasty, with over 1000 water carriers wandering about central China. These hirelings hiked barefoot to show that they went to the deep trenches of the rivers to get the most purified water.
Today we have washing machines that we just pop our laundry into, push some buttons, and voila, clean clothes. But folk in the past did not have this luxury, so how do you suppose they cleaned their clothes? Well, back then, around the medieval era, they counted on "fullers" to get the job of washing clothes done.
Also known as laundresses, these individuals washed clothes in bulk all day long. The fullers' biggest clients at the time were the factory workers. Hence, this meant that fullers had the task of getting rid of all sorts of industrial remnants from their garments.
Nowadays, we have technology at the tip of our fingers, and all it takes to send a message is a simple tap of a button. Yes, we've come a long way in telecommunication, but it wasn't always this easy. Dispatch riders were handy little fellas (or ladies) when it came to transferring information in the past.
In the early 1900s, these message bearers were dispatched to get urgent messages from persons A to B. They were particularly common during the years of World Wars 1 and 2, functioning as messengers for the military. They were regarded as a more reliable way to send messages than radio transmissions. In today's age, we just tap some buttons on a smartphone, and voila, a message is sent.
During the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution created a thriving manufacturing sector leading to urbanization and a swift change in economic growth. The working class was still poor and accepted harsh working conditions, which would be frowned upon in today's day and age.
Quarrymen were the guys working relentlessly in quarry sites to mine and extract stones and other valuable resources for the construction industry. It was a tough job, only suited to the resilient. In modern times, the mining and quarrying industry is highly automated, requiring less physical labor, thanks to advancements in technology and machinery. Ultimately this job has been made obsolete due to the introduction of heavy machinery such as excavators, bulldozers, and conveyor systems.
In Japanese, the word "ninja" directly translates to "invisible one" and "Shinobi" to "one who sneaks," so we guess a Ninja Shinobi was probably an "unseen one who sneaks." The roles of these lurkers included ambushing, invading, deception, and all things that go with being a stealthy warrior.
Regardless of the abundant folktales regarding this role, historical interpretations of Ninja Shinobis are rare. It is, however, believed that these men were enlisted from the lower ranks and traded their service in secret. In the 15th century, these mercenaries emerged as spies, raiders, and even terrorists and were considered honorable in feudal Japan.
In exchange for a spare penny, crossing sweepers swept the pathways of mucky urban streets. This job was considered one degree above that of a beggar but one degree below the factory workers. In the Victorian era, before motorized transport hit the streets, most big cities were taken over by more than 100,000 horses traversing the streets.
A lot of horses meant a lot of poop. Crossing sweepers had the unfortunate job of shoveling all the sludge off the street, ensuring streets were dandy for ladies and gentlemen to cross over in their delicate attire. At times, it was a strenuous task — excavating channels to permit pedestrians and carriages to pass through ill-maintained muddy roadways was not painless.
Another in-demand occupation from the past was a "switchboard operator." From the late 19th to mid-20th century, these folk worked all day and night to link and transfer calls from various cities and countries over long and short distances.
They played an essential role in the telecommunications industry, connecting phone calls by unplugging and plugging cables into a massive switchboard, all by hand. This job demanded extreme commitment and, of course, being okay with sitting down in the same spot all day, doing the same task all day. With time, this occupation fizzled out when digital exchange switched things up in the early 80s.
Back in the 1940s, being a typist was all the rage. Minus the typewriter, typists are still sought after today. The most significant difference between typists and their modern-day computer-using counterparts is that they used typewriters instead of modern computer keyboards.
This key difference is what made the whole process of logging thousands upon thousands of characters that much trickier. Typists were popular positions held in the publishing, executive, and secretarial sectors. Nowadays, with the sophistication of technological devices and widespread adoption of personal computers, being a typist is a far easier role, as it has been revamped with keyboards.
In the Victorian era, between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, there was an occupation dedicated to rats. Back then, professional ratteners were employed to catch rats in and around urban areas. This may make heads turn, but it's certainly not the worst job on the list. Rats were captured not merely for hygienic purposes but rather for entertainment purposes.
Pubs got ratteners for their guests' amusement. Not here to judge, but we don't get what's so entertaining about rats. Still, ratteners made their living by catching the rats and either playing with them or feeding them to dogs. When the notorious black plague came around, this technique proved to be nifty in diminishing the spread of the sweeping disease.
Everyone can relate to needing a little diversion from time to time while working. But, unlike the occasional scroll through Instagram or Facebook during work in the 21st century, folks in the late 1920s did not have this distraction as an option. Tasks were usually repetitive and redundant, while office-goers spent hours in their office spaces doing the same thing over and over again.
That's when professional lectors were introduced. Lectors were responsible for lightly entertaining the workforce in an office. They would read newspapers and various forms of literature as a means of entertainment. We can't really see how this could've been anything other than distracting, but hey, this was somebody's occupation in the early 1900s!
Things are really getting weirder now. Historically, different groups of people claimed they had the ability to cure diseases and illnesses in the most bizarre ways. One of these groups was the toad doctors. These guys or gals swore that toads and toad-related remedies were a cure-all, and due to prevailing superstitions and folk medicine in certain cultures, the toad doctors thrived.
During the 1800s, scrofula, a.k.a tuberculosis of the neck, was ravaging and wreaking havoc in England. Toad doctors claimed that toad secretions could act as remedies and practiced their philosophy by placing a toad in a muslin bag on the infected area. Luckily, medicine advanced, and now this occupation is seen as nothing but some folklore legend.
Back in the good old times, technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today! Most tasks required a physical helping hand and manual input. Log driving, also known as "river driving" or "timber floating," was a common occupation, particularly among young fellas in the 70s.
It is the physically laborious task of moving massive tree trunks from woodlands to sawmills, where they can be refined for the construction division. These folk used rivers and other waterways to move the timber to the processing facilities. As the logging and transportation sector advanced, log drivers sadly didn't quite make the cut.
Long before "video killed the radio star," the real stars of the radio were radio actors. Back in the 1920s, radio play was a massive hit in the entertainment industry. TV wasn't a thing yet, so entertainment options were pretty slim, but alas, there were some entertainment options.
Audiences seeking entertainment had little say in the matter other than relying on the radio broadcasting music and the works of radio actors. Radio actors would create monologues, stories, and drama pieces to air on the radio. Radio acting has not died down completely, although things look a lot different for these guys in the modern entertainment scene.
Imagine what life was like before the backspace key. If you can't, then linotype operators certainly can! These highly skilled fellas used a piece-by-piece technique of pressing down articles onto journals, and other forms of print, with a metal typesetter. This meticulous job required lots of time and patience, which workers provided gracefully as there really was no choice when it came to means of generating printed media back then.
The linotype operators selected the preferred characters, and the device constructed them into a line of text to form a single section, thus the title "Linotype." This was a hot occupation in the late 1800s but it was rapidly replaced in the 1960s when phototypesetting disrupted the operators' occupation.
A Rag-and-Bone man, also referred to as a "bone-grubber," was a fellow who traveled by horse and cart at tortoise's pace through communities, collecting what he would call treasures. These bits and bobs cluster of items of varying materials, such as metal, wood, and the like, would be sold for profit.
Scavenging for materials of slight value is not in the slightest a new concept. This practice has been around since way back when, and this occupation has been roaming streets since the early 19th century. Due to industrialization and a raised poverty line, this job has become mostly obsolete, but of course, these workers are still present in certain parts of the world today.
You might ask, was someone actually getting paid to badger people back in the day? Regretfully, the answer is no. Badgers were more like middlemen that came between the farmers and consumers. The title badger is thought to be derived from the word bag or bagger, possibly referring to the person carrying a bag of goods.
Throughout the great Market Revolution in the early 19th century, farmers did not sell their produce directly to consumers. Acting as intermediaries, the badgers bought goods directly from farmers and sold them at a higher price to market-goers at the farmers' market square. Badgers do not necessarily exist nowadays, but middlemen are still around in many different enterprises.
Not quite a Western occupation, but Matagi men are considered Japan's spiritual historical hunters. They operated in the snowy regions and were exceptionally skilled at tracking and catching animals such as boars, deer, and bears that roamed the mountainous regions of Japan.
Matagi hunters have been romanticized for their mastery of navigating the harsh conditions and rugged terrain and started operations as far back as the 8th century. Matagi culture declined in the 19th century with the advent of modern firearms, curtailing the need to hunt food sources. The few Matagi tribes existing today are inhabitants of small settlements in the Tōhoku forests and commit to agricultural activities in the harvest season and return to hunting over winter months.
Iceman (or Icewoman)
If you've seen the famous Disney film "Frozen," then it's highly likely that you have a good indication of what this occupation is about. During the 1800s, a professional iceman or woman was a common occupation in winter months.
In the time before refrigeration became widespread, these workers played an essential role in ensuring that households or businesses had access to ice in order to preserve food and keep perishable food from spoiling.
The iceman or woman would come around selling massive ice blocks to individual homes and establishments that could afford this necessity at the time. Nowadays, we have fridges, and thank God we do because dragging massive ice blocks around is no small feat!
Wheels had always kept things turning, even in the 18th century when wagons, ox carts, cannons, and also the affluents private carriages conveyed people from A to B. Wheelwrights had the duty of designing and engineering wheels with meticulous mastery to ensure the wheels could meet the stresses of paved or unpaved roads and other surprises that may have arisen back then.
It was a popular historical job in which materials, such as wood and later steel, of different shapes were combined to construct and make wheels for vehicles. Wheelwrights worked alongside the cartwrights, who constructed the carts, focusing on the main body of the cart. Advancements in materials and manufacturing, however, have driven this occupation away.
It was a mad, mad world during the Middle Ages. A whipping boy was usually a high-ranked role appointed to young boys who were raised alongside royalty. As the name suggests, these boys were tasked with bearing punishment that was meant for their assigned prince or noblemen in the form of whips.
Whipping boys were most times the only friend or companion a prince had. Sometimes, a slight compensation for the job appeared in adulthood. William Murray, the whipping boy of King Charles I, was designated the First Earl of Dysart. He probably considered it a sweet retirement deal. Your job may not be as bad as you think it is!
Hopping into an elevator wasn't always as easy as pushing a button, and *ding* you're on the right floor. Elevator operators may not be as old as the profession of icemen, but anyone born during or before the baby boomer generation will have seen one of these.
Before the 1950s, skyscrapers or hotel buildings carrying many people on a daily basis needed to have specific staff on the floor to control everything in the elevators. Dressed in crisp uniforms, they would control everything from the doors to the direction and the capacity. However, with advancements in technology and the introduction of automated elevator systems, this job has become obsolete.
This occupation got its name from the French word "trobar," directly translating to "finding" or "inventing." Hence, a troubadour was a medieval lyrical poet who invented new poems to compose and performed these poems as songs. Troubadours thrived in the late 11th to early 14th century in the Occitanian region, a historical area in France, Italy, and Spain.
In the narrative of medieval poetry, the social impact of troubadours was exceptional, and they were cherished at the courts, entitling them to tremendous freedom of expression. Troubadours were usually witty (think of Jaskier from "The Witcher"), but this occupation died with the Black Plague. Technically speaking, we still have troubadours, but they go by different names and are more like modern traveling singer-songwriters.
Before there were laws against child labor, breaker boys were coal mine hirelings that separated impurities like rocks or soil from coal and broke coal pieces apart in the coal processing plants of the late 1800s. Most times, breaker boys were children, but at times, the elderly who were turned down work due to age, illness, and other difficulties also worked alongside the youth as breaker boys.
Typically, breaker boys worked six days a week, with 10-hour days, and they were generally only 8-12 years old. Public disapproval of engaging children as breaker boys in the late 1880s was relatively high. However, the child labor component only ended in the early 1920s.
Rower woman, also known as Roddarmadam, was a female profession in Sweden in the 1400s. These ladies handled a lot of the traffic in the canals of Stockholm and ferried passengers between the different islands around the archipelago. These businesswomen usually inherited their mother's boats or bought old boats from retirees.
They were known for their frank mannerisms and foul language, to the point that in the mid-18th century, a law was established specifying that these boat staffers had to uphold a sober mind and civil language on the job. These ladies were easily recognized with their enormous hoods — a distinctive hat that was made for rowing in poor weather conditions.
If you have seen the famous Disney classic "Mary Poppins," then you've probably heard of this occupation. Chimney sweepers were a big hit in the past, especially since chimneys were central to heating homes, as modern-day heaters weren't really a thing yet.
During the Industrial Era, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and for quite some time after this period, this occupation was in high demand. It was mostly men in this occupation who were required to sweep and service the chimneys of prosperous homeowners. This occupation, however, started to dwindle sharply with the introduction of gas and electrical appliances.
The occupation of lamp lighters was, once upon a time, a friendly figure in the communities of many towns and cities across the globe. The first street lamps invented in the 1700s were powered by gas, oil, and sometimes even candles. These early street lights required people to put the light on at dusk and put the light out at dawn.
Lamp Lighters would make their way with a ladder or long rod and either ignite the following night's light or extinguish the previous night's light. Nowadays, this occupation still exists in some parts of the world, but with the invention of electrical lamp posts in the late 1800s, lamp lighters are a rare sight.
Everyone has learned about the dreaded Prohibition years that happened throughout America in the 1920s. The working class back then couldn't come home after a long, laborious day and crack a cold one to calm the nerves. That's where hush shopkeepers saved the day. These sneaky shopkeepers stocked and sold prohibited beverages in secret.
Their main aim as shopkeepers was to ensure that they would not get caught while selling prohibited goods, like beer, wine, spirits, and other alcoholic beverages, which were illegal and punishable by law at the time. With a lot of thirsty customers, these hush shopkeepers made a good living.
In a time in history when dwarves were nothing but outsiders, they started getting hired as court dwarves. They were some of the first dwarves to be recorded in history. Around the 15th century, when European courts continuously competed concerning politics and also with regards to representation, it became popular to employ dwarves in court for visual effects.
Their smaller and distinctive bodies made the nobility alongside them appear bigger and more powerful, which supposedly boosted their high perch. The sister of Tsar Peter the Great, Natalya Alexeyevna of Russia, is documented to have employed 93 court dwarves at one point. As backward as this practice was, it spread across borders and endured all the way into the late 1800s.
Dictaphone operators paved the road for voice recorders that we use with such ease nowadays. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, dictation operators were common in many industries. They used dictaphones, which is an analog voice recorder, to manually record audio.
These operators would later play the audio and type and record the content onto written documents. Nowadays, it's simple. We just whip out our phones and select the voice recording app when we want to save some thoughts. It's all thanks to these guys who paved the road to this technology. But alas, times do change, and things come and go, as this career did when voice recorders disrupted everything.
Nope, this career did not consist of crying like a baby. It's definitely one of the more bizarre jobs we were looking back on, especially now that we are living in a technological era and considering how fast news travels. Town criers were the guys calling the shots on street corners by shouting out public announcements and news like the ones you've probably seen in Disney movies.
They walked through streets while ringing a bell or banging a drum to get the public's attention. This occupation dates back to the early 1700s but did not stand the test of time. Their role diminished with the advent of radio, television, and newspapers.
At the height of sailing, especially during wars, powder monkey was an actual job title. The name was largely given to young boys who joined sailors on deck to assist the crew aboard their trips. Their task was to handle and carry gunpowder when needed — hence the name.
This was a widespread profession during the "Age of Sail," — which occurred from the 1500s to the early 1800s century. It is believed that the name comes from the term "monkeying around." There is evidently, however, no proof to back this tale up. The title "powder monkey" is still used in some parts of the world today to portray different varieties of blue-collar, industrial jobs.
You may have seen cigarette girls in old-school movies or vintage posters, but these female vendors are a thing of the past. Once upon a time, they were common components of entertainment outlets, dealing cigarettes and cigars to party-goers. Cigarette girls were popular at bars, restaurants, and casinos from the 1920s to the late 1930s, and later on, they were even featured at airports and sports arenas.
Along came the cigarette machine in the 60s, and a shift in the point of view toward smoking changed so the need for these cigarette sellers ultimately diminished. A few Las Vegas nightclubs still hire cigarette girls nowadays, but it's more of a cultural symbol than what it used to be.
A common occupation during the 19th and 20th centuries was that of a teamster. Also named "bullwhackers," these carriage and cart drivers drove around teams of working animals as well as men and women from the working class. Teamsters contributed significantly to historical economies, but despite their role, they remained exploited, working long hours for low pay, and usually dwelled in poverty.
Not only did they carry heavy loads, but they also carried a massive load of risks and responsibilities and usually bore the consequences of accidents. Frustrated, a team of teamsters teamed together to form the Team Drivers International Union in 1901. By now, this occupation has long since become obsolete due to the introduction of motorized vehicles.
Hackers (the computer type) obviously still exist today. However, historical hackers were not quite as tech-savvy as today's hackers and were more skilled with cutting down trees than working with computers and CPUs. The construction industry was booming in the late 19th century and early 20th century, which was around the same time that "hacking" trees down commercially became popular.
Timber was (and still is) a multifunctional resource that, in the early 1800s, rose to prominence and became a primary resource for building materials. It was also widely used in other industries, such as the fuel industry. But alas, technology developed, and logging machinery came along and hacked this career.
Even though this occupation is long gone, you've probably heard of the milkman before. Every day during the fifties and sixties, the milkman would come around the suburbs with his milk truck and deliver milk bottles. Sometimes you could also get your eggs and other dairy products, like cream and butter, from the milkman.
Like clockwork, the milkman would collect the previous day's bottles and replace them with bottles filled to their peak with fresh milk. What eventually put a stop to the milkman's occupation was the introduction of refrigeration. As refrigerators became typical in households, the milk stayed, but the milkman's profession parted. Perhaps they would've stayed if they supplied cookies and other treats too?
Telegraphy was a massive hit in the communications sector in the 19th and 20th centuries. It involved transmitting messages with telegraphs over long distances. The telegraphists received messages, then decoded and translated Morse code into written text and relayed these messages over telegraph lines to the recipients.
At its peak, especially during times of war, operating a telegraph was an essential job, so this position provided pretty good pay. These Telegraphists served as information transmitters that served soldiers and other military workers on land or at sea. They were crucial military messengers and served as a massive stepping stone in communications, but in the late 19th century, they were replaced by the telephone and other new telecommunications.
If anything, this spooky occupation will have you feeling forever thankful that you weren't born before the 1900s. In a time when medical and anatomical students needed corpses to practice surgery and options were limited, resurrectionists would come to the rescue. How? Resurrectionists, also known as body snatchers, would dig into the graves of the deceased and bring these corpses for the learners to dissect and practice on.
They would usually dig up freshly buried bodies in secret during the night and sell them to medical trainees. This was a common practice during the 18th and 19th centuries, but there were, of course, some massive debates regarding the morals behind it. For now, this job has been buried.
Let's cut to the chase. There's not "eggsactly" anything too "eggsciting" about this job. Egglers are still around today in some remote parts of the world (and markets), but this occupation was far more common back in the good old days.
With the invention of the egg carton around 1910, egglers saw this as an opportunity to sell eggs in bulk, as transportation and relocation of eggs were now made facile. Most of the time, these egglers would sell poultry eggs, but eventually, they started adding other daily goods, like fresh produce and such, to the mix. Nowadays, you can find the modern version of egglers at farmers' markets.
As the name suggests, Pullman porter men were employed to work as railroad porters in sleeping cabins. This occupation was created by The Pullman Company, a railroad cart manufacturer in the mid-19th century. The porter's job included shoe-shining, carrying luggage, setting up the sleeping compartments, and of course, serving the overnight passengers.
Up until the late 1950s, Pullman porters were solely black and have been thought to have contributed a great deal to the start of the black middle class in America. The pay was, like most African-American jobs of the time, very low, but this was still considered one of the best jobs available for these folk at the time.
He is a mysterious wildling trekking the open grasslands with his equine escort. Surviving solely off the land, he hunts, forages, and drinks obscene amounts of yerba mate. He snoozes under the stars and knows pretty much all there is to know about horses and cattle. If you think that he is a wild-west American rancher or cowboy, you're close, but not close enough!
He's a gaucho who's been glorified and romanticized in Latin America for centuries. Gauchos were nomads and horsemen on the open plains of the Pampas (Argentina and Uruguay) in the early 17th century. Gauchos worked alongside Argentinian forces to provide support against the Spanish and British invasions, using their horsemanship abilities to back the local troops.
Also titled railroad keepers or section hands, this was a common profession in the early 1900s and, funny enough, had zero to do with dancing! Gandy dancers were employed to manually maintain and manage tracks on which trains traversed. They played a critical role in the railway construction era in North America, which significantly contributed to the industrialization of the country.
This job was highly burdensome and demanded long, arduous hours of consistent grueling activity. The physically demanding tasks included lifting and loading heavy railroad ties and positioning and securing tracks. Sooner or later, the demand for this occupation fizzled out as large machinery entered the scene.
This list sure does have some bizarre jobs, but this one is by far the worst! If you think your current job stinks, then you've probably never heard of a gong farmer. Gong farmers were tasked to remove and clean human waste and excrement from cesspits and public toilets from the 15th to the 17th century.
Gong farmers were only permitted to work at night for hygiene-related reasons. It wasn't all too terrible, though: since it wasn't exactly everyone's dream job, gong farmers were paid well for doing the job that not many wanted to do. This job disappeared thanks to the modernization of sewage systems and waste management.
Groom of the Stool
Think your job stinks? Think again! There was a job in Tudor times between the late 1400s and early 1600s that was paid well but was also 100% shameful! The groom of the stool was the unfortunate position held by a fellow who was responsible for assisting the king on his bathroom breaks.
The groom of the stool was expected to accompany the king to the bathroom, undress the king for his business, and then wipe the king's backside when the toilet time was over. At times the bloke had to carry the king's excrement to be inspected by a doctor to ensure that the king was in good shape. This just got a whole lot weirder!
The history of wet nurses has been both lifesaving and terrifying. Sure, selling human milk probably makes you feel sick to your stomach, but it has been a valuable and morally disturbing commodity since the dawn of time. Before the development of infant formula, breast milk was essential to the health of babies.
In the Victorian era, most families hiring wet nurses were affluent. Those families refused to let the babies of the breastfeeder join them on the job, so they had to set their own babies back with caretakers and insufficient food for great lengths of time. Nowadays, wet nurses still exist, but this practice is less common, and these mothers are paid top dollar for rending their milk.
Baked Potato Seller
Some historical salespeople, like the baked potato seller, didn't require too much out-of-the-box thinking to make their bucks. They started out in the early 19th century when the workforce sector was starting to come alive. City centers were getting more busy, and with more workers, it meant more dwellers with cash on hand.
It was easy to spot a baked potato seller with his cry, "Hot hot, all hot..." The merchants sold the hot potatoes in four-legged carts with different compartments for butter, salt, and pepper above the charcoal compartment. The charcoal section essentially baked the potatoes on the spot. In winter months, baked potatoes were purchased more for keeping hands warm than for eating.
One of the first types of cameras to ever be developed was a daguerreotype device. Daguerreotypists were photo wizards who captured moments with their daguerreotypes and used alchemy and chemical processes to develop these photos through what was then called the art of "photographie."
They were trendy in the mid-19th century, and it didn't take too long for this craft to take over. With celebs of the time like Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln getting their portraits captured, the news of this art spread fast. Over time, cheaper and more advanced processes gradually took over and made the work of daguerreotypists outdated.
In the olden days, specifically around the 1800s, women would visit haberdashery stores to buy clothing and other items related to sewing and clothesmaking. A haberdasher is someone who runs a store that sells all sorts of haberdashery bits and bobs, including sewing accessories, such as buttons, zips, ribbons, and the like.
Back then, it was a lot more common to get crafty and make one's own clothes and upholstery for one's home, so haberdashers were quite common. In a sense, haberdashery items are still around in craft stores today, but it is far less common than they used to be, thanks to the rise in retail and online shopping. Hence this occupation ceased to exist.
Printer's devils were not so much evil, but rather they were helping hands in the era of manual typesetting. They were apprentices, fulfilling a number of chores in printing enterprises, such as mixing ink and handling typesetters. Their title originates from the not-so-politically correct deduction that ink-stained hands and skin is associated with the devil.
During the Middle Ages, technological innovations such as the printing press were also linked to the Dark Arts and evil stereotypes. Benjamin Franklin, the prominent American polymath, started his working days out as a printer's devil. Whether or not these modest beginnings got him to the point of being one of America's Founding Fathers is up for you to decide.
It's safe to say that most people avoid swimming in rivers due to the little critters known as leeches lurking around, thirsty for some human interaction. This is a common conception today, but in the 19th century, there were people with all sorts of tricks up their sleeves.
Back then, it was popular for professional leech collectors to gather leeches from rivers to use for medical purposes. As with a lot of bogus beliefs, it was believed that leeches had a miraculous ability to rid the sick of all kinds of illnesses by sucking their blood. Luckily, this practice was put to a stop when all sorts of illnesses appeared and started to skyrocket in numbers!
It is evident that history was not always pleasant to the poor and underprivileged. Let's take a peek at such an example. Sadly, scavenging around muddy rivers and territories was a genuine occupation. Poverty dwellers were desperate enough to comply and get the job done.
The mudlarks would plunge into muddy rivers, searching for valuable goods. After finding their treasures, they sold them to the general public. Things changed at the turn of the 20th century, and this occupation was frowned upon for its mucky conditions. Slowly but surely, this occupation fizzled out as more and more of society disapproved of its unethical practice.
Back in the day, people were handy at using their natural surroundings to create nifty tools and devices. Broomsquires were no different as they used sticks, shrubs, and bushes from their outer home turf to make brooms.
Traditionally, the broomsquire gathered stiff plant material, bundled it together, and tied it to a handle, also made from natural material like a tree's branch, and voila, a broom! These broomsquire businessmen traveled from place to place, vending their brooms to households and markets. Broomsquires are still around today in some remote parts of the world, but for the most part, industrialization has busted them out.
If you're into pseudoscience, then perhaps you've heard of this obsolete occupation. Phrenology was a form of abstract and hypothetical theory in psychology. Phrenologists studied the structure of the human skull to determine aptitude and certain personality traits.
Popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, phrenologists claimed they could determine people's personality characteristics and intelligence by observing the skull's contours and shape. At first, when this ostensible science was popularized, phrenologists were exalted as masters of science, and rightfully so, as it seemed that they were way ahead of their times. But in the late 1960s, this practice was deemed bogus and consequently banned.
Anti-Aircraft Sound Locator
As ridiculous as these hirelings looked, they played a crucial role in the aviation navigation industry from the 1920s to 1940s. Also known as aircraft detectors, these employees used acoustic location for passive aircraft detection during the World War era.
This practice involved detecting rackets or vibrations created by airplanes which could then be interpreted further to determine the locations and distance of planes in the vicinity. This was a nerve-wracking position as it only gave a few minutes warning of an approaching aircraft. Due to the high level of stress in this occupation, these workers were highly rewarded for their work. Nowadays, we have radar and GPS to get this job done.
One particular pastime activity that's never gone out of fashion is bowling. It's been around for as long as we can remember, and it's here to stay. Bowling is a great group or family activity, and over time, it has secured its standing as a universal recreational sport. In the past, pin-setters would, as the name implies, collect and arrange pins.
This labor-intensive task required the pin setters to swiftly clear away knocked-down pins, replace missing ones, and ensure that the pins for the next round of bowling were set in the right place. However, times do change. Nowadays, bowling alleys are equipped with automated machines that deal with all aspects of pin-setting. This occupation sadly became obsolete in the 1930s.
Have you ever wondered how people woke up at specific times before the invention of smartphones and alarm clocks? Before the first invention of automatic alarm clocks, folks in urban areas hired knocker-uppers. The job of knocker-uppers' was to make sure people woke up on time for work in the morning or after mid-day snoozes.
Armed with long sticks and peas, they would ensure their employers wouldn't oversleep by tapping on the windows with their devices. Due to the lack of alarm clocks, the labor force relied heavily on these window knockers to get up for work on time. This odd occupation became obsolete in the mid-1800s when mechanical clocks were invented.
In the early to mid-20th century, being a soda jerk was highly sought after by young fellas. The job of a soda jerk was to pour drinks — mostly sodas and sometimes light alcoholic drinks. They did, however, also work ice cream machines.
This occupation was sought after mainly by younger crowds as it was a way for youngsters to socialize and meet new people. Kind of like bartenders of this day and age, but unlike their modern-day counterparts, soda jerks were required to wear uniforms, like the bow tie and "soda jerk cap," as you can see in this picture.
Not too far back in the 50s and 60s, young apprentices named "Billy Boys" had the menial chore of making tea and other hot beverages for men at work. These billy boys were usually in training and shadowed the higher-up men they were making tea for.
The billy boys had to master the art of making tea (is that even possible?) if they wanted to be taken seriously further down the road. When you think about it, this position is pretty much still around nowadays, with interns hauling Starbucks around for office-goers. Sometimes you really have to start at the bottom to get anywhere!
During the 18th and 19th centuries, manual craftsmanship was central to manufacturing copper goods. American redsmiths were caught in the act, redhanded with tons of copper has-beens, working with these materials to make their daily bread. A day's work included smelting and shaping copper to create tools, weapons, and various copper objects.
The title "redsmith" originates from the almost red bronze color of raw copper. Technically there are still a number of redsmiths today, but instead, they are called metalsmiths. However, metalsmiths have far different tasks nowadays than their historical redsmith counterparts, thanks in part to the advancements in tools and machinery.
Bobbin Boys were common in the 1700s and early 1800s in textile mills. Bobbin Boys handled the massive machines that spun cotton or wool onto bobbins. They were critical in the textile industry as only their small fingers could fit into the gaps of the machines. The pay was low, and the hours were long, not to mention the unsafe working conditions.
One notable bobbin boy who's never been forgotten was Andrew Carnegie, who led the proliferation of the American steel industry. He started out as a bobbin boy at the age of 13 years, earning, on average, $1 a week. His humble beginnings may or may not have led him to become one of the wealthiest magnates in America.
It's safe to assume that this job got its title "hobbler" from the employees who were hobbling and hovering on boat decks. But, the hobbler's job was to haul river and canal boats. This was a unique trade, and every season presented itself with different hazards, including lost fingers, trench foot, and even the occasional drowning.
Floating in between the cracks of society, hobblers could avoid paying taxes and made their bread with whatever odd jobs were available around the boats. Mostly, they were required to tow boats to assigned areas, but sometimes they did other watercraft-related chores like catching fish or cleaning barrels. Nowadays, deckhands hold close positions, but these boat employees go by a different name.
Vivandière was the term that cropped up during the Civil War period as a tribute to women who served in the army. These nifty ladies took care of wounded army patients, cooked them food, and carried equipment and other odds and ends to support the army. Think of them as military maids.
One usually thinks of only men serving in armies, but these women played a crucial role by offering support. The vivandières could easily be identified as they had special uniforms and carried accessories with them. Though the term vivandières is not in use in modern-day military zones, the role has been transformed into other positions such as medical staff, military cooks, and such.
Also known as timekeepers, this job was crucial in telling the time, which we all know can have a make-it-or-break-it effect if things are not precise. Before we had the luxury of clocks, smartwatches, and smartphones, telling the time was different from how we know it today.
Clock winders had the job of manually winding clocks before electric winders were invented. In all fairness, clock winders are still around today, maybe just not as common as they once were. The famous Big Ben clock in London requires a clock winder to wind it three times a week. Each wind takes about one hour.