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4 Weird Jobs From the Olden Days


Times change. And, as they do, jobs and industries shift as well. Hence, the regular internet posts enumerating the endangered jobs of these here modern times. It’s true that our three-times-great-grandchildren might need some help understanding what mail carriers and newspaper reporters actually did, but they wouldn’t be the first ones to lose touch with jobs from the past. Just for fun, and for the sake of honoring history, let’s take a look back at four strange jobs from the olden days that are potentially unknown to you. They might even change your perspective on the current job landscape.

town crier

(Photo Credit: Bryan Ledgard/Flickr)

1. Town crier.

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You might hear someone refer to someone else as a town crier these days, but chances are they don’t mean it literally. The expression (often used today to describe someone who gossips) has deep historical roots. Back in the day, a guy with a loud voice and bell was the best way to distribute important news to the townspeople. Interestingly, when bad news was delivered, the town crier needed some protection, which generally came in the way of laws against harming him. This is likely where we got the expression, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

A handful of town criers are still employed today, mainly in the U.K., as a way of adding historical charm to special events and festivals. It’s interesting to note that this profession fell off as print media (and literacy) expanded. Now though, print reporter jobs are also slipping away as internet-based news sources increasingly come into favor.

2. Ice cutter.

This difficult and dangerous work was essential before the era of powered refrigeration. In order to keep your perishables cold in your ice box (or cold closet), you needed ice. And, ice cutters were the ones who made this comparatively delicate system possible. Working hard throughout cold winter months, these guys sawed away at the frozen layers of lakes (trying very hard not to fall in as they worked) and then carted the cold heavy stuff away for distribution. Another professional, the iceman, (no, not this guy … or this one … or the one who cometh) delivered and sold the ice to local homes and businesses.

3. Knocker-up or knocker-upper.

The job of a knocker-up was simple: to be a human alarm clock and wake up the clients who needed to rise in time for work. They used a long pole to bang on windows and doors, and only moved on to the next stop once they were satisfied the client was on their feet. Most often found in British industrial centers or large towns, knocker-ups were usually older people or police officers looking to make some extra money during their morning rounds. These days, there are a wide variety of creative alarm clock options to choose from, but a real live knocker-upper could be tough to find.

4. Whipping boy.

Yes, believe it or not this was a real thing. Originating in 16th century England, a young prince was often brought up alongside another young person who was assigned the role and title of royal whipping boy. Since only kings were allowed to punish princes, tutors enforced rules via the whipping boy, directing consequences for the prince’s wrongdoings on him instead of on the royal lad. These days, the term whipping boy is used to express one person being punished for the actions of another, but thankfully, you won’t see the job title on any 21st-century tax returns.

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What are some other old-timey jobs not mentioned here? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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