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Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I thought it’d be fun to look back at some of the occupations of the 1800’s and even earlier. Some sound very weird to us but I’m sure back then they weren’t any different from computer technician, an astronaut, a day trader, or a stock broker.

And while everything had a name, settlers on the frontier tended to call things normal terms everyone could understand. Like simply a stage coach driver instead of a whip. People started moving away from the stiff technical terms, opting for less flowery language. Most folks back in the early days didn’t have time to waste on words that bent the tongue. They were too busy trying to survive.

Some jobs carried simple names that might tell you right off what the person did.


*Tanner – one who tans and cures animal hides (still around today but not real common)
*Spurrer – one who made spurs
*Gunsmith – one who made guns
*Saddler – one who made, repaired, or sold saddles and other furnishings for horses
*Sawyer – one who sawed trees or wood by hand at a lumber mill or lumbering operation
*Teamster – one who drove a horse, mule or ox-drawn freight wagon; a modern day truck driver
*Matchgirl – a girl who sold matches
*Whip – one who drove stagecoaches

A lot of these others you probably already know but maybe you’ll find a few surprises.

*Lormer – a maker of horsegear
*Boardwright – carpenter; one who made tables and chairs and the like
*Bone Picker – someone who traveled around collecting rags and bones
*Pettifogger – shyster lawyer
*Peripatetic Artist – one who went from town to town painting portraits or panoramas on walls of homes and taverns
*Cordwainer – one who made shoes – different from a cobbler who just repairs them
*Farrier – a blacksmith who specializes in shoeing horses – called same today as back then
*Cooper – someone who made or repaired wooden barrels, tubs or the like
*Chandler – a candlemaker – had a steady business before gas and electric lights
*Lamplighter – someone appointed to light streetlamps at dusk and extinguish them at dawn
*Runner – someone who solicited business for a hotel, boardinghouse, steamship and the like
*Whitesmith – tinsmith or worker of iron who finished or polished an item
*Tinker – someone who made tinware
*Wheelwright – one who made or repaired wheels for wagons, carriages or coaches
*Snow Warden – someone appointed in one of the northern states to keep snow flattened and evenly distributed over roads for sleds and sleighs
*Drummer – traveling salesman

In the old West, some of these jobs tended to overlap at times. For instance, a blacksmith often made spurs and/or tinware and the like in addition to forging horseshoes, plows, farm implements, tools, etc. He might also shoe horses and be the owner of the livery or stables.

All of this makes me wonder which of today’s occupations will vanish in the next 50 or 100 years. And what new occupations will take their place? It’ll be interesting to see. They’ll most likely have increased space travel; maybe take passengers back and forth to the moon, mars, or other planets. Wonder what the people who operate the space vehicles will be called? Space farriers or something trendier?


  1. What an interesting blog, Linda. I knew some of these terms, but others were completely foreign to me. I think we sometimes. fancify job titles these days to be politically correct. It's just confusing to me why we can't accept having ordinary jobs. I enjoyed reading your delightful blog.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I agree about people trying to give job titles sometimes outlandish names. Domestic goddess. Sales Associate. Nurse Practitioner. Does that make the job worth more? Have a great day!

  2. It is always interesting to see how out language has morphed over the years. I so enjoyed this post. Thank you for the 'history' lesson, it was fun. Doris

    1. Thanks, Doris! I'm glad you enjoyed my blog. We never know what new terms people will come up with next. I'm sure Daniel Webster is turning over in his grave at some of these ridiculous new words. Have a great day!

  3. Linda, loved this post. I always find language usage so interesting, and names and titles have always enthralled me. Like you, I wonder what names we'll think up for future occupations. And which ones will eventually disappear. Food for thought. Thanks for a very interesting post!

    1. Glad you enjoyed my post, Cheryl. Change is inevitable in all things I suppose. We're just not content to leave things as they are. I was getting my hair done yesterday and a physician's assistant was in there. She said she just got a letter from the state and they're changing her title to something very weird that I can't remember. Guess we have no choice but roll with the flow.

  4. Thanks, Linda! Cool post. Especially liked "Snow warden."

    1. Thanks, Alisa. I'm glad my post caught your fancy. Yes, snow warden is something I was unfamiliar with also.

  5. I love this, Linda! Lots of wonderful information to refer back to. I have actually used pettifogger in a book LOL.


    1. Tanya, I'm glad you found the information useful. It can sure come in handy when you're writing a historical.

  6. Linda, this is really good. I knew some of the occupations but there were some on your list, I didn't know. Have a great day. Love, P

    1. Phyliss, I'm surprised that you didn't know some of these. You're always up on this stuff, much more than I am. Wishing you lots of luck with your wip.

  7. This is a fun list, Linda. Did you work from specific resources?

    1. Hi arlettawrites! Thank you for coming over to read my blog. Glad you enjoyed it. I took these from several different books. Some of it came from The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s. And I got more from the Time Life books about the Old West. I think there were a few other books in addition to these.

  8. This list is going into my research file. Great post, Linda!