Skip to main content

Main Area


Most common jobs in America 100 years ago

  • #20. Draymen, teamsters, and expressmen; road and street transportation

    - Total employment in 1920: 411,132

    Draymen are mostly classified as delivery persons today in the food industry. Although the BLS doesn’t categorize delivery drivers specifically by food, there are a total of 1,449,100 of those workers in 2019. The Teamsters union currently has a membership of 1.4 million.

  • #19. Clerks in stores

    - Total employment in 1920: 413,918

    There are 4,768,900 retail sales workers in the U.S., more than 10 times the amount in 1920. According to Forbes, retail salesperson is the most popular job in the country, showing America’s rise in consumerism compared to 100 years ago.

  • #18. Laborers; railroad transportation

    - Total employment in 1920: 495,713

    There were only 91,100 railroad workers in 2019, and about 42,000 railroad conductors according to most recent data by BLS. Rail travel remains prevalent today, with faster and more comfortable trains on the tracks, but in 1920, the train was the preferred mode to travel.

  • #17. Stenographers and typists

    - Total employment in 1920: 615,154

    There are only 15,700 court reporters (what are generally classified as stenographers) today. However, that number goes up to almost 3.8 million when accounting for secretaries under typists. 

  • #16. Other industries, semiskilled operatives (broom, button, and rubber factories, etc.)

    - Total employment in 1920: 622,662

    To get a grasp of how different life was in 1920, think about the 622,662 workers in the broom, button, and rubber factories. With all of those items available at any local dollar store, they are very much disposable. However, due to the pace of life 100 years ago, a simple button or broom might be a valued houseware good, thus making a need for high amounts of employees to produce them.

  • #15. Building, general, and not specified laborers

    - Total employment in 1920: 623,203

    If we classify building, general, and not specified laborers as construction laborers today, there are 1,645,700 such workers in circulation. These workers remain part of a profession in high-demand, from small household tasks to helping construct city skylines.

  • #14. Iron and steel industries, semiskilled operatives

    - Total employment in 1920: 689,980

    In the early 20th century, iron and steel were the backbones of American industry and growth. Today, there are only 82,060 workers in iron and steel mills and ferroalloy manufacturing. With the increased use of plastics and other materials and imports of construction materials, the reliance on iron and steel is less necessary in 2019.

  • #13. Iron and steel industries, laborers

    - Total employment in 1920: 729,613

    BLS stats don’t differentiate between semiskilled operatives and laborers. However, there might not be another industry so drastically different than iron and steel when examining previous numbers. There were more than 1.4 million workers in the field, while BLS stats put today’s numbers at almost 15 times less than that.

  • #12. Coal mine operatives

    - Total employment in 1920: 733,936

    Coal is no longer as essential for industry operations in the U.S. Only 50,750 workers in coal mining were counted as of May 2018. While new energy sources have been developed since 1920, an effort to be more environmentally conscious has also waned people's dependence on coal.

  • #11. Bookkeepers, cashiers, and accountants

    - Total employment in 1920: 734,688

    The BLS now defines this occupation as bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks, with 1,707,700 workers. Despite an estimated 4% decline in the field, there are still about 1 million more workers keeping track of financials, boosted by computer tools like Excel and TurboTax.

2018 All rights reserved.