Aluminum foundry puddler in Cincinnati, Ohio
Aluminum foundry puddler
[Image credit: Library of Congress]
Have you ever pondered what kind of job you would have had if you lived a hundred or more years ago? There wasn’t a big call back then for IT professionals, auto repair shops, or neurosurgery. But there was still plenty to do in order to keep society running smoothly — even if that sometimes looked very different from what we’re accustomed to today.

Here are some fascinating professions from history:

1. A saggar maker’s bottom knocker was someone who helped the maker of saggars, which were clay boxes used to hold pottery while it was being kiln-fired. The bottom knocker put clay in a metal hoop, and then literally knocked it into shape to create the saggar’s base.

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2. Back before there were affordable and reliable alarm clocks, a knocker-up made a few pence a week in England and Ireland by using a long, lightweight stick, often bamboo, to tap on their clients’ upper floor windows and wake them up so they could get to work on time.

3. Toad doctors were practitioners of a specific tradition of medicinal folk magic, and operated in western England until the end of the 1800s. They primarily tried to heal the skin disease called “The King’s Evil” (scrofula), but also dabbled in curing other ailments caused by witchcraft. They did this by placing a live toad, or a toad leg, in a muslin bag and hanging it around the sick person’s neck.

4. A ballad monger made a living selling printed ballad sheets on the street.

5. A papaya man dealt in trade with New Guinea (the name is derived from Papua New Guinea)

6. A puddler helped make drainage channels, canals, or raised river banks waterproof by dredging clay from river bottoms or digging it up from nearby pits and “puddling” it along the waterways.

7. Puddlers might have worked alongside slubbers, who cleared drainage channels (“slub” being another word for mud or ooze).

8. A tasseler made tassels for furnishings.

9. A tosher was someone who scavenged in sewers (often with his or her whole family), especially in London during the Victorian period. They would go down into the sewers looking for small things to sell. This is similar to what mudlarks did, though they dredged the banks of the Thames River when the tide was out, wading through unprocessed sewage and sometimes even dead bodies to find small treasures they could sell.

10. An abecedarian taught the alphabet, of course!

11. A bloodman or bloodletter opened a vein to let blood out of a sick person’s body, and often used leeches, as well; this was believed to be a possible cure in days before antibiotics and other scientific medical advances.

12. An eyer carved out the eye of a sewing needle.

13. If you were a hankyman, you earned your living as a traveling magician in Victorian and Edwardian England.

14. And — it’s possibly the best job title ever — the fear nothing maker was a weaver who created a special kind of strong, thick wool cloth called “fearnought” or “dreadnought.” It was woven of wool that was often mixed with lesser materials and was used as protective clothing or as lining in areas prone to explosion or leaking.

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