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Most common jobs in America 100 years ago

  • #30. Dressmakers and seamstresses (not in factory)

    - Total employment in 1920: 235,855

    Current numbers, according to the BLS, show that there are 21,150 dressmakers in the nation. While bespoke dresses are still popular—particularly for weddings—mass production of dresses by hundreds of clothing labels have diminished the need for independent dressmakers on a large scale.

  • #29. Engineers (stationary), cranemen, hoistmen

    - Total employment in 1920: 279,984

    The BLS doesn’t even label workers as cranemen or hoistmen, but similarly grouped crane operators come in at about 44,410. It is hard to tabulate how these occupations translate into relevance today, but given America’s nonstop building and construction boom, workers with similar skills remain in high demand.

  • #28. Mechanics

    - Total employment in 1920: 281,741

    The mechanic was a more vague term in 1920, whereas today several industries have specialized mechanics. In the automotive service industry alone, there are 770,100 mechanics according to the BLS. While machinery continues to accelerate at the speed at which mechanical tasks can be completed, employees to operate those devices remain necessary.

  • #27. Chauffeurs; road and street transportation

    - Total employment in 1920: 285,045

    Today, chauffeurs are grouped in with taxi drivers and ride-hailing drivers, totaling 370,400 according to BLS. The role has evolved tremendously from small cars and buggies to the sleek cars people drive today. Although some cities try to curb the usage of ride-share vehicles, they remain highly popular.

  • #26. Foreman and overseers (manufacturing)

    - Total employment in 1920: 307,413

    Today, foremen and overseers can be defined as first-line supervisors of production and operating workers. These employees total 622,790 and given the expansion of American industry, that comes as little surprise.

  • #25. Lumber and furniture industries, laborers

    - Total employment in 1920: 320,613

    Furniture and related product manufacturing employment numbers total 393,560 today, putting the industry just slightly above the 1920 tally. While there are more Americans in 2019 than 1920, and therefore more need for furniture, the production of different items can be heavily imported for cost-effectiveness.

  • #24. Painters, glaziers, varnishers, enamelers

    - Total employment in 1920: 323,032

    Painters comprised over 375,000 jobs in 2019, a boost of about 50,000 from 1920. While painting was a more tedious occupation 100 years ago, the need for services has not changed much. Improved methods for large-scale projects could also contribute to the smaller increase in painters today, despite more opportunities for work.

  • #23. Launderers and laundresses (not in laundry)

    - Total employment in 1920: 396,756

    Today, there are 209,350 workers in laundry and dry cleaning, almost half the amount 100 years ago. One reason could be the technology for mass laundering, whereas many items in 1920 had to be hand-washed.

  • #22. Other industries, laborers (broom, button, and rubber factories, etc.)

    - Total employment in 1920: 403,891

    There are 134,890 employees in rubber manufacturing, while BLS does not classify specifically in broom and button factories. One possible reason is that there is no longer a need for specific factories for those items, which can be mass-produced along with other similar products in one central location.

  • #21. Clothing industries, semiskilled operatives

    - Total employment in 1920: 409,361

    Figures in this industry seasonally adjust; there were 1,320,600 employees in the clothing and clothing accessory industry in August 2019. Clothes shopping has completely transformed over the past 100 years, from the number of stores to the specialized retailers available for almost every clothing need. Retail salespersons comprise most of the jobs in the clothing industry.

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