Most common jobs in America 100 years ago
The “Help Wanted” section in modern newspapers look significantly different than what it was a century ago. While the job market continually fluctuates, the type of roles people play in offices, factories, and farms are no longer the same as a century ago.
One of the main reasons is rapidly changing technology. Engines and airplanes have revolutionized people's ability to grow crops, while also helping to transport and move products at a significantly faster rate. Less reliance on cultivating items like iron, coal, and steel has minimized the role these former pillars of American industry play in the grand scheme of the national economy.
Stacker compiled the most common jobs in America using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1920 Census. A total of 210 occupations were considered for Stacker's list, and the entries were ranked by the number of people employed in an occupation in 1920. Several of the professions are no longer regularly called by the same name, but in those instances, Stacker grouped similar jobs from today to compare and contrast. Stacker also used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for current employment totals.
This list examines how daily life operated in the 1920s: With World War I over and the nation about to enter a stage of prosperity never before seen, some industries rocketed in popularity to adjust to this new definition of American industry. But with vital elements like electricity, roads, and medicine sometimes in short supply, can readers deduce what industry occupied the top spot 100 years ago?
Read on to discover the 50 most popular American jobs in the 1920s.
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#50. Gardeners, florists, fruit growers, and nurserymen
- Total employment in 1920: 169,399
Agriculture remains a heartbeat of the American industry, but technology has revolutionized the way people work on farms and in fields. A century ago, many functions from planting seeds to mowing fields were done manually, but machines have hastened the pace at which gardeners, florists, fruit growers, and nurserymen work.
#49. Textile industries, laborers
- Total employment in 1920: 169,953
Textiles and clothing manufacturing remains a potent industry in America, but jobs related to the industry have spread much farther out. Even in the 1920s, factories began moving south for cheaper labor. Today, a great deal of cloth production is handled overseas for more cost-effective prices.
- Total employment in 1920: 170,235
The substitution of motors over horse-drawn delivery vehicles rapidly changed this industry by the 1920s. With quicker methods of transportation, the need for more deliverymen dwindled. Delivery services are still a large part of daily American life—thanks to online shopping. However, the increase in the usage of drones and part-time delivery workers working through apps may soon change the usage of full-time postal carriers.
#47. Agents, canvassers, collectors
- Total employment in 1920: 175,772
Agents, canvassers, and collectors are not as prevalent as before. Digitization of sales and bills negates the need for an actual person to come door to door to collect debts.
#46. Janitors and sextons
- Total employment in 1920: 178,628
Maintenance workers continue to be in high demand in America. Technology has undoubtedly made certain tasks easier and quicker, but full-on replacement of janitors or sextons has yet to occur. Robotic workers, while available, have yet to be perfected on a wide scale.
#45. Commercial travelers
- Total employment in 1920: 179,320
Commercial travelers or traveling salespersons are still around but not on the scale as once before. Goods can be purchased in large stores or online with ease, while new products can often be introduced to mass audiences similarly on television or online.
#44. Food industries, semiskilled operatives
- Total employment in 1920: 188,895
Food industry workers remain in high-demand, despite a large number of imported goods. Factories producing foods, cafeterias, restaurants, and markets remain a staple of everyday life, even with the increase in food and grocery delivery services.
#43. Telephone operators
- Total employment in 1920: 190,160
No longer is an operator necessary to connect calls from one person to another. Cell phones make talking on the phone one of the simplest tasks, but operators still play crucial daily roles, particularly in customer service realms for companies and businesses.
#42. Tailors and tailoresses
- Total employment in 1920: 192,232
The mass production of clothes in various sizes lessens the need for tailored garments, but Americans still prefer for particular articles of clothing to be customized. Suits keep tailors and tailoresses in business while the rapid pace of 9-to-5 life creates smaller jobs from busy people who don't have time to sew small holes and buttons.
#41. Managers and superintendents (manufacturing)
- Total employment in 1920: 201,721
With any workplace, managers and superintendents remain a crucial cog in daily flow. Computers have helped make their jobs easier and have streamlined production, but people are still needed for most industries to solve problems and keep steady workflows.