Most common jobs 150 years ago
Many of the jobs that made the U.S. economy in 1870 are still key today. A few have become obsolete because of industrial or technological improvements. Stable hands are still being hired but hostlers, who took care of arriving horses at an inn, are not. Similarly, coopers, the men and women who make and repair casks, are disappearing.
But some skills that were run-of-the-mill have become more valuable in our times. Handmade shoes, hand-rolled cigars, and hand-washed laundry are all luxuries in 2020.
The vast majority of jobs are familiar even if the way they are done has changed in the last 150 years. Physicians continue to heal though there have been enormous advances in the medical field. Lawyers and judges still wrestle with the legal system. The clergy bring spiritual comfort.
Many of the jobs entailed making or selling products, the activities that make the U.S. economy function. Some American bakeries are small and artisanal, but others are large corporations. Textile mills had died off but are making a comeback in some Southern cities though with fewer employees and more automation. The iron and steel industries are growing as the country builds.
The emphasis that Americans put on education can be seen in the 3.7 million public school teachers who are teaching this fall, either in their classrooms or virtually. And 1.5 million college faculty members will continue educating students when they graduate.
One of the biggest changes has been in the number of farms across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 6.8 million farms in 1935, but the number has dropped to about 2.05 million where it has stayed. The remaining farms are larger, about 444 acres in 2017, up from 155 acres in 1935.
Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s report on 1870–1930 Comparative Occupation Statistics, Stacker compiled a list of jobs with the most employment in 1870. There were 110 jobs considered for the list, not including any occupations that said “all other” in their name, as these are vague groupings of jobs and it’s unclear which workers were included in those employment numbers.
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#50. Hostlers and stable hands
- Total employment in 1870: 17,865
Hostlers took care of horses belonging to people staying at an inn, while stablehands worked in stables, looking after the horses, exercising them, and cleaning equipment. No one rides up to a hotel on a horse these days, but stablehands are still in demand in racing and private stables. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 the median annual wage for all animal caretakers was $24,780.
#49. Operatives and laborers (brick, tile, and terra-cotta factories)
- Total employment in 1870: 20,367
Brick, tile, and terra-cotta are still in use as building materials, but others would soon come into play as buildings got taller. The first skyscraper was erected between 1884 and 1885 in Chicago, the Home Insurance Building. Though its exterior was still brick, it had a steel frame. The use of brick has fallen from 15 billion a year in the early 1900s to 7 to 9 billion.
- Total employment in 1870: 23,853
Plasterers apply plaster to walls and ceilings, but an alternative, drywall, was invented in 1916 by the United States Gypsum Corporation, and 20 billion square feet of panels are manufactured each year. Although it has the advantage of allowing for quick construction and is fire-resistant, it is less durable than plaster walls.
#47. Soldiers, sailors, and marines
- Total employment in 1870: 24,082
The American military is much larger in 2020, with about 1.3 million active-duty personnel. The branches in order of size: Army, Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The newest addition to the armed forces is the U.S. Space Force.
#46. Barbers, hairdressers, and manicurists
#45. Operatives and laborers (marble and stone yards)
- Total employment in 1870: 25,925
The U.S. continues to produce marble and granite, more than 580,000 tons of granite and more than 55,000 tons of marble in 2016. The Vermont Danby marble quarry is the largest underground quarry in the world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,310 rock splitters working in quarries in 2017.
#44. Hotel keepers and managers
- Total employment in 1870: 26,666
There were 57,200 lodging managers in 2019, making a median salary of $54,430 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The outlook for the future isn’t bright. Estimates are that the number of jobs will decline 12 percent to 2029 or 6,700 jobs.
#43. Fishermen and oystermen
- Total employment in 1870: 27,871
U.S. fisheries—from catching to selling the fish—created 1.7 million jobs and $212 billion in sales in 2016. Today’s workers must operate under fishery management plans to try to prevent overfishing. Forty-five federally managed fish stocks have been rebuilt in the last 20 years.
#42. Clerks (except in stores)
- Total employment in 1870: 29,801
There were nearly 3 million office clerks in the United States in 2019, making a mean annual wage of $36,360. Today they are working on computers and phones. In 1870, Congress voted to prohibit gender discrimination regarding pay for federal clerks. Many working women at the time were Civil War widows.2018 All rights reserved.