Lifestyle

Think Your Work Sucks? These Old Jobs Were MUCH Worse.

Published On 10/21/2015 Published On 10/21/2015

Some people worry about a younger, shinier co-worker taking their job. But if you've been reading your history books, you know that you should be keeping your eyes on the machines, not a smug 22-year-old. Need proof? Just look at these dozen absurdly archaic jobs that technology and time rendered obsolete. Real humans used to do all of them, despite the often meager pay and mocking titles. Marvel at their antiquity below, then pray some Silicon Valley genius doesn't make your profession go the way of leech collectors.

Wikimedia

Powder monkeys ran gunpowder to ship cannons

And refueled them during battle. Back in the 1800s, navies would employ boys as "powder monkeys," at least before child labor laws ruined it for everyone. As you can imagine, it was incredibly dangerous and the benefits package was subpar at best.
 

Knocker-uppers banged on doors until the inhabitant woke up

You hate your alarm clock, but you should be thankful it's a device you can turn off and not a live person rapping at your windows. During the Industrial Revolution, factory owners wanted to make sure their employees were getting up at the appropriate ungodly hour to report for work. So they paid a "knocker-up" or "knocker-upper" to go to homes and make sure the person was roused. These people had long sticks to reach windows as well, and if that didn't work, some would resort to pea shooters. They were presumably not invited to many parties.
 

Collectors waded into ponds and attracted leeches with their bare legs

For a long stretch of time, before science proved blood-letting to be unsafe and downright crazy, it was a doctor’s go-to treatment. Leeches were often used to accomplish this task, but the doc was certainly not going to gather those worms himself -- he went to medical school. So he contracted some 19th-century collectors to stick their legs in leech-infested waters instead.

flickr/sandwichgirl

Pinsetters reset the pins at bowling alleys

You know that machine that sweeps and replaces your bowling pins after you score a gentleman's three? It didn't always exist. Prior to 1946, when the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) introduced the automatic pinsetter, there were boys who did it by hand. It was a pretty thankless job, with crap pay and absolutely no free mozzarella sticks!
 

Lectors read to factory workers

Assembly lines aren't the most entertaining places to be, so to keep workers engaged, factories hired these guys to sit on a raised platform and read aloud to the crowd. Lectors were especially popular in 19th century and 20th century Florida cigar plants, where they translated The Tampa Tribune columns into Spanish or read portions of The Count of Monte Cristo.
 

Rat catchers supplied bait for betting

Nowadays, rodents are easily caught by traps or all-purpose pest control available at grocery stores. But rat-catching as a paid gig was big in the 1800s, partially because it helped stop the spread of disease and partially for a less noble reason. Men with questionable morals used to partake in "rat-baiting," a sport wherein dogs were let loose in a pit of rats, and spectators bet money on how long it would take the dog to kill them all. You might remember it from Gangs of New York. Or you might not, since you were too busy trying to forget Cameron Diaz's Irish accent.

Wikimedia

Plague doctors wore bird masks and carried canes

In order to protect themselves, medics who treated victims of the Black Death wore a mask with a "beak" filled with herbs and straw. It was meant to filter the filthy sick people air, and it wasn't their only line of defense. Plague doctors also wore long robes to cover as much skin as possible, and poked patients with a cane so they didn't actually have to touch them. Modern docs would ditch the garb for less horrifying hazmat suits, but don't worry, the steampunks picked this costume right back up.
 

Haywards supervised fences around hay meadows

Today's police officers get assigned all sorts of exciting beats, but do they ever experience the thrill of keeping watch over fences and enclosures?? Haywards, or hedge wardens, did back in the Middle Ages. It was up to these guys to blow a horn if wayward cows got into the crops.
 

"Necessary women" cleaned up their boss' shit (literally)

Was this job necessary? Yes. Was it remotely appealing? Hell no. A necessary woman was a servant whose duties were focused around emptying and scrubbing chamber pots. This job existed for centuries, including the 1600s, when the most famous necessary woman, Bridget Holmes, earned her own portrait. Remember her next time you complain about overtime.

Wikimedia/Yarl

Lamplighters turned on the flame-powered streetlights of yore

Depending on the time period, they might’ve lighted the lamps with a long stick with a wick at the end, or climbed a ladder and struck a match. Power companies took over this sort of thing in the 20th century, but lamplighters are still a tourist attraction in a few towns around the world, like Brest.
 

"Lungs" fanned fires in alchemists' workshops

You wouldn't expect alchemists to keep a lengthy payroll, but even borderline wizards need some help. As you can imagine, the employed servants known colloquially as "lungs" were exposed to all sorts of fun toxic chemicals in their line of duty and, unlike the plague doctors, they didn't get the benefit of a beak mask.
 

Flatulists were fart-focused jesters

It would make a hilarious joke on LinkedIn, but "professional farter" was a very real thing. The industry produced a few legends --  the most famous flatulist Joseph Pujol entertained French audiences in the late 1800s through the early 20th century under the stage name Le PĂ©tomane ("fart maniac"). Although his profession is mostly dead now, you can still find rare holdouts like Mr. Methane.

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Kristin Hunt is a staff writer for Thrillist, and is so glad necessary women got to retire. Follow her at @kristin_hunt.

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