These Actual Jobs From History Sound Crazy Today

Engineers pulling train engine

These Actual Jobs From History Sound Crazy Today

The world has always been full of odd jobs and different ways to make a living. While millions of people might consider their work today to be fulfilling, this wasn’t always the case. Long before the days of computers, modern medicine, and the internet, there was an entirely different set of jobs you could hold. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some actual jobs from history that sound crazy today.

Knocker Upper

Knocker Upper
The modern-day alarm clock replaced the job of a knocker-upper.

Long before the days of alarm clocks, a knocker-up or knocker-upper would tap on your window at the appointed time. Popular in Britain and Ireland during the 19th century, the knocker-upper would tap on your window using a bamboo stick.


Lector Factory
The role of a lector would help keep factory workers engaged during the day.

To reduce the monotony of factory work, factories would hire a lector. The hired individual would look to read news, literature, or other material out loud to occupy workers. There are plenty of historical examples of factories going on strike if a lector was no longer available.


Close-up image of delivery man carrying bottles of fresh milk to entrance door
Before you could buy milk at a grocery, it was delivered to your door every day.

Long before the days of refrigerators being commonplace, the world had milkmen. This job was common in America, England, and other civilized nations during the 20th century. Every morning you would hear the steps of the milkman leaving warm milk at your door.


Young boys would be hired to reset the pins at bowling alleys across America.

Can you imagine going bowling these days and waiting for a pinsetter to put up all the pins? Before the invention of mechanical pin setters in 1936, young boys would reset pins after every turn. While attendants were still kept around after the mechanical pinsetter became commonplace, the need for full-time pinsetters was long past.

Ice Cutter

Ice Cutter
Today, you can buy ice at any grocery store or gas station.

In today’s world, you can go down to any grocery or gas station and find a bag of ice. As you might suspect, this wasn’t always the case. Getting ice used to be the role of an ice cutter, who would carve ice out of frozen lakes in the 19th century. During this time, men and women would cut up to 1,500 tons of ice in one day and transport it via train around the country.

Whipping Boy

Ham house
King Charles I famously gave his whipping boy Ham House thanks to their close bond.

Historically, when a young prince misbehaved, it was against royal protocol to spank them. Instead, a “whipping boy” was hired to take the beating or spanking on behalf of the prince. While this sounds crazy, there are many stories of whipping boys and princes growing up together with strong bonds. It’s also not uncommon for princes who became kings to reward their whipping boys with wealth.


London was well known for its nightly lamplighters who kept the city going in the evening.

Long before the days of electric street lights, street lights had to be manually lit every night. Can you just imagine the work that went into lighting up to thousands of lamps in London every single evening? Thankfully, this job was considered important work and fathers usually passed the role down to their sons. As soon as electricity and light bulbs became commonplace, the lamplighter role fizzled out.

Elevator Operator

It was commonplace for elevators in wealthy buildings to have operators.

Before the days of automatic elevators in the 1950s, an elevator operator was commonplace. This role was hugely important to help control how many people got into a single elevator car, or how long the doors stayed open. Elevator operators can still be found in very rare scenarios, but for the most part, the automatic elevator has made this role extinct.


Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson was a famous “computer” who helped NASA launch John Glenn into space.

While the word “computer” means something different to us today, this wasn’t always the case. Historically, as far back as the 17th century, a computer was a woman who would manually calculate figures and numbers. This job was very important until desktop computers became commonplace.

Leech Collector

Leech Collectors
An illustration depicting poor women who were used as leech collectors.

During the 19th century, it was widely believed that leeches had medicinal properties. Whether it was sucking toxic blood from your system or pulling disease out, being a leech collector was a real job. As diseases continued to spread, the function of leech collectors faded away.


Still image of old camera equipment on old wooden floor
Adding color to black and white images as a Faker was an unusual role.

Long before color photos were commonplace, a Faker would colorize black and white photographs. There is no doubt this was an obscure job, but it’s crazy to think of someone trying to colorize a photo. While there are still some who try and do this through computers, this job was done completely by hand.

Powder Monkey

Powder Monkey
A powder monkey had no official rank on a ship but played a vital role.

Back during the days of seafaring military battles, a powder monkey or powder boy worked on naval gunships. It was the job of a powder monkey to stuff gunpowder into a cannon. The job was usually the work of a boy aged between 12 and 14. This role was selected based on boys speed and height and they held no official rank on a ship.

Town Crier

Town Crier
A town crier was how most people received community news in the 18th century.

Long before the days of television and social media, a town crier was how news was delivered. This profession dates back to the 18th century. Town criers were well known for their booming voices and ability to stand for hours at a time. Of course, the rise of television and radio news ended the need for a town crier.


a dog at a Gothic building, a cathedral. A pet in the city. Traveling with Jack Russell
A knocknobbler had one job and that was to get rid of dogs sleeping in churches.

The idea of being hired to chase dogs out of a church might sound crazy, but it was a real role. The work of a knocknobbler was to shoo dogs away while church services were in session. A popular job during Elizabethian times, a knocknobbler is almost akin to animal control today.


Early Autumn farmers market taken mid-morning as a long exposure showing the beautiful vegetables offered.
The role of a badger was to buy low and sell high at weekly farmer’s markets.

No, not the animal, but the middleman who bought items from farmers and then sold them for a markup at a farmer’s market. This job, often regarded as starting in the 1500s, was well known for relentless sales tactics. The term “badger someone” is believed to have come from the work of badgers.

Chimney Sweepers

Dark smoke comes out of the chimney of a modern house in winter. Heating with solid fuel. The concept of environmental pollution
The role of a chimney sweeper was both dirty and difficult.

When the use of chimneys was the only way to heat a home, a chimney sweeper was a common role. Going as far back as 1803, the role of a chimney sweeper was very dangerous. Unfortunately, as younger boys could better fit into a chimney, they were the ones doing the actual cleaning. Unfortunately, the health risks of inhaling smoke would not be properly identified for years but was a clear danger.

To top