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Some Strange Professions of Years Ago

As you research on your family tree, one of the major items are the occupations of your ancestors. Some quite common still today such as a physician or dentist or a cook, but more than likely you will come across a few jobs of yesteryear you never heard of and that exist any longer. However, you had relatives who did make a livelihood that that job and you do need to better understand what the work entailed.

job-chimneyChimney Sweeper – was a very necessary occupation since most everyone had a chimney for heating and cooking and it could get very dirty. It could also be quite dangerous climbing on top of roofs. It was also necessary to help prevent fires starting and destroying the house. Today there are machines to do the cleaning of a chimney.

job-ice-cutterIce Cutter – before modern refrigeration, there was the ice box. But to get the daily supply for an ice box or for a cellar to keep food cool, people had to cut big blocks of ice in areas with very severe cold weather. Many times those block of big ice were packed and sent to area that had no severe cold weather, such as Florida. Even places that had ice factories, there were still people to handle large chucks of ice.

job-pinsetterPinsetter or Pinspotter – these were individuals, usually young fellows were employed to reset correctly the bowling pins in a bowling alley after the customer threw their bowling ball. The game dates back centuries as lawn bowling, but the pins still had to be reset. In New York in 1840 was where the first indoor bowling alley was established. It became very popular and established in many cities during the 19th century. It would be the mid-1930s when a mechanical pinsetter was invented and started to spread to bowling alleys across the country, doing away during the 1940s into the 1950s with the need for human pinsetters.

jobs-lamplighterLamplighter – before electric lamp posts, a person at nightfall had to go to each street lamp to refuel if needed and light the lamp. At sunrise, the light had to be extinguished.

jobs-lectorLector – with the industrial age and factory work, it became necessary to employ an entertainer. Most of the entertainment was in the form of a person reading aloud in a very powerful voice or a singer. They started in the 1880s and continued until the 1920s. They had to be heard over the noise of the machines in the factory. It was the workers themselves who wanted the Lector, which helped keep each worker calm and or focused on their task.

job-switchboard-operator‘Hello Girls’ – Switchboard Operators – with cell phones no need for a phone operator. Long before rotary – dial phones, you were connected to the person you were calling by a switchboard operator, also known as a ‘Hello Girl’. Usually done by females, it was a hard job sitting for 8 or more hours in a hard chair making sure you didn’t ‘drop’ a call and got everyone connected.

Here is a link to many other strange and now non-existent jobs. Here is another link to odd jobs, some still done now with a different name.

Photos: Chimney Sweeper; Ice Cutter; Pinsetter; Lamplighter; Lector and Switchboard Operator.

Related genealogy blogs:

Your Ancestors Did What for a Living?

Colonial Occupations

Occupations Common in 1891


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