Looking for a Job? Try the 1880 U.S. Census for Ideas

Below is a press release from the home offices that contains some interesting stats from the 1880 Census:

PROVO, Utah, Aug. 31 /PRNewswire/ — To mark the nation’s 124th Labor Day, Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online resource for family history records, is releasing an interesting glimpse of the most popular and most unusual occupations in 1880.

With Labor Day’s roots dating back to 1882, Ancestry.com, the only online source for the complete digitized U.S. Federal Census from 1790 to 1930, is sharing the labor landscape from the 1880 U.S. Census, including the following fascinating discoveries:

  • More than 20 percent of the population listed their occupations as some form of laborer with the top three occupations listed as employed on a farm, laborer or servant. 
  • Additional occupations among the top 10 include carpenter, dressmaker/tailor, clerk, school teacher, blacksmith, miner and cotton mill worker. 
  • Some were more creative in answering census takers’ questions.  Rather than simply listing “laborer” as their occupation, their occupations were “Sandwich Man,” “Soda Dispenser,” “Inspector of Lunch,” “Collector of Eggs” or “Prepares Fruit.” 
  • The 1880 Census reveals the lure of the “Wild West” during that time period.  Almost 30,000 individuals reported their occupation as “Saloon Keeper.”  There was also a significant number of  “Cattle Herders,” “Cowboys,” “Saddle and Harness Makers,” “Horse Dealers,” “Street Sweepers” (to clean up the after the horses on the big city streets) and even an “Outlaw” appeared on the census takers list. 
  • Some people showcased their seeming lack of occupation, listing jobs such as “Old Batchelor,” “Good Talker,” “Reading the Bible,” “Bird Fancyier,” “Buggy Riding” and “Gent at Large.” 
  • The top three occupations in the U.S. were identical to those listed in the UK (1881 Census) where almost 10 percent of the English population were working as servants, on a farm or as laborers. 
  • Other top 10 jobs in England were dressmaker/tailor, working in the cotton industry, coal miner, carpenter, laundress, annuitant (someone who receives annuity) and finally, “no occupation.” 
  • Other quirky English jobs included “Artificial Flower Maker,” “Capsule Maker,” “Coffin Maker,” “Corset Maker,” “Fancy Box Maker,” “Powder Puff Maker,” “Surgical Instrument Maker.”  To think Tom Hanks’ grandfather whose occupation was listed as “Rodent Control” in the 1930 Census and later, “Squirrel Inspector,” raised eyebrows! 
  • A variety of occupations sounded more like machinery than jobs people would perform.  “Button Polisher,” “Envelope Folder,” “Feather Curler,” “Silk Winder” and “Boot Clicker” (someone in charge of lace holes on a shoe) were among those listed.

“The census reveals more than just numbers — it builds stories,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO, MyFamily.com, Inc., parent company of Ancestry.com. “By providing information on occupations, household members, names and ages of family members, language of origin, social status and more, census data connects our past to the present and creates a vivid snapshot of the lives of our ancestors.”

7 thoughts on “Looking for a Job? Try the 1880 U.S. Census for Ideas

  1. In the 1870 Census, my ancestor, Beers Radford listed his occupation as “old man of the house”. He was 86 then and not around to list his occupation in 1880.

  2. have English ggf who married in 1857 he and the brides father and 2 of 4 witnesses were “gas tube” makers? Had much older brother who was a coach maker who had a son who was a “gas tube” maker does anyone know what this is pipe makers?

  3. Enjoyed this article too– please publish more of this kind of information. Would be interesting to have the names so I could look up some of those for fun!!

  4. In my search of records, the most interesting item that I have seen so far was occupation, “concubine”. Was just amazed, but I am new at this, so maybe this is routine. I often think of the census takers and what amazing situations and stories they must have encountered along the way.


  5. While searching the 1860 Census for my gr-gr-gr grandfather, C. H. Veeder, my jaw dropped when I realized the signature of the Census Taker was my gr-gr grandfather, James E. Pettus! He also served as Justice-of-the-Peace (referred to as “the JP” I guess?

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