04 September 2006

Mod Jobs

Looking back at the 1880 census, Family History Circle (via Genealogue) lists the most popular jobs of the time, including many quaint occupations -- such as saloon keeper, corset maker, and blacksmith -- that harken back to olden days and remind us how far we've come.

But 1880 was a year just brimming with opportunity and invention and the people then were as eager as people are today to adopt the latest technology.

  • The telephone had been invented just a couple years earlier but already over 1700 telephone workers were on the job. A good number of them were operators, mostly male, and a dozen telephone repairers had found their calling.
  • The phonograph, slower to catch on than the phone though invented around the same time, was supported in 1880 by 83 "phonographers."
  • Thomas Edison had patented the incandescent light just a few months before the census was taken when there were 49 men working with electric light. A thousand electricians were already on the job.
  • The development of the dry-plate process in 1878 revolutionized photography and opened the doors for over 9000 photographers by 1880.
  • The first typewriter was introduced commercially in 1873. By 1880 there were over a hundred "typists" or "type writers" using the machines. Many of the 900 stenographers were probably also using the device.

You can see a glimmer of today's coolest pastimes in the 1880 census: There were over 50 baseball players, six genealogists, a handful of balloonists -- including one woman -- and, as a possible forerunner of new-age color therapy, one "pyschromatic healer."

In a few years, the people of the 1880 census became eager adopters of motion pictures, automobiles, aeroplanes, and pop-up toasters. No wonder: in 1880 there were 782 inventors working in America.

You can search the 1880 census by occupation at Ancestry Ancestry.com

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