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Most common jobs in America 100 years ago

  • #10. Teachers

    - Total employment in 1920: 761,766

    There are 1,569,000 kindergarten and elementary school teachers, 615,700 middle school teachers, and 1,072,500 high school teachers according to the BLS. That is almost five times the number in 1920, thanks to America’s booming population and intense focus on education compared to a century ago.

  • #9. Textile industries, semiskilled operatives

    - Total employment in 1920: 792,394

    Semiskilled operatives are not classified by BLS numbers, but there were 14,610 total workers in textile, apparel, and furnishings, according to the most recent data from May 2017. Workers in pressers, textile, garment, and related materials only account for 38,320 workers, as this industry has drastically changed after the introduction of new machinery that churns out thousands of garments in hours.

  • #8. Carpenters

    - Total employment in 1920: 887,379

    A total of 1,006,500 carpenters indicates a slight increase compared to 1920, with the number expected to rise. Over the next 10 years, carpenters are expected to see an 8% growth among their ranks. While the tools of the trade haven’t changed all that much, the quality and cost-effectiveness of hammers, saws, screwdrivers, and other staples are light years ahead of what was used 100 years ago.

  • #7. Machinists, millwrights, and toolmakers

    - Total employment in 1920: 894,662

    There are about half the amount of machinists, toolmakers, and millwrights (what BLS now calls die makers) today at a total of 469,500. These workers “set up and operate machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools,” and on average, make more than $21 per hour.

  • #6. Salesmen and saleswomen

    - Total employment in 1920: 1,177,494

    In terms of retail salespersons, there are 4,448,120 in the U.S. as of May 2018. With shopping malls and local mom and pops dotting the American landscape from Maine to California, the need for salespersons continues to grow, despite a mean hourly wage of $13.61.

  • #5. Servants (bell boys, butlers, cooks, etc)

    - Total employment in 1920: 1,270,946

    Guests were sure to be swarmed and pampered by a variety of bell boys, butlers, and cooks upon stepping into a swanky hotel in 1920. Today, classified as baggage porters and bellhops, these workers only total at 42,350. While luxury travel remains a facet of the hospitality industry, the abundance of options at cheaper option hotels negates the need for so many servants at every lodging locale.

  • #4. Retail dealers

    - Total employment in 1920: 1,328,275

    In 1920, there were fewer salespersons than retail dealers. Many stores reported three or fewer salespersons for each clerk. Retail dealers, while the 1920 Census does not make clear the exact differences in responsibility for salespersons, were more widely utilized.

  • #3. Clerks (except clerks in stores)

    - Total employment in 1920: 1,487,905

    The 1920 Census indicated that enumerators “failed utterly” in differentiating between clerks and salespeople. So while the almost 1.5 million clerks is an enormous number, there is some debate over the total number of exact clerks employed 100 years ago.

  • #2. Dairy farm, farm, and stock farm laborers

    - Total employment in 1920: 4,041,627

    Today there are 145,530 dairy product manufacturers and over 975,000 farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers. Farming remains a pillar of industry in the Midwest, but imports, tariffs, and other factors have cut into the prevalence of farmworkers across the country.

  • #1. Dairy farm, farmers, and stock raisers

    - Total employment in 1920: 6,261,261

    In the 1920s, many children were employed on farms, whereas today laws create age boundaries to work legally. The presence of children on farms is not entirely to credit for the number of farmers that made this occupation the most common job in America 100 years ago⁠—in fact, fewer children were working on farms in 1920 than in 1910. This trend is, however, indicative of the kind of nation the U.S. was a century ago. 

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