Hundred-Year-Old Job Descriptions?
July 31, 2012 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find job descriptions for jobs from the 1850s-1950s?

Where can I find descriptions of jobs, trades, professions, and all other occupations practiced during the 1850s-1950s?

I'm looking for descriptions of jobs from decades past - especially jobs we don't see as much these days, like cooper, wagonmaker, blacksmith, maltster, lino operator, drayman, expressman, lamplighter, gripman, tinsmith, pantryman, sawyer, stenographer, grainer, backman, stickerman, motorman, and timekeeper.

And for old jobs like that that DO still exist, I'd love to find out how they're different now compared to the late 1800s or early 1900s. For example, I think coopers are still employed at wineries, but I'm sure those jobs are very different than they were 100 years ago.

I'm interested in any and all information I can find, but I'm especially curious how each job was done day to day - what the workday was like.

Training, wages, and conditions are also of interest.

Jobs a little outside that date range (as early as, say, 1750, as late as, say, 1980) would also be great, but I'm most interested in 1850s-1950s.

Free, downloadable resources would be best, but I'm interested in everything.

posted by kristi to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Victorian Web has a number of reports on working conditions and types of work. ( You might also look a Dickens' guide to London and various travel guides/accounts of the periods; they often have a surprising amount of information, especially for hotel staff, other service workers.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:23 AM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: The U.S. Department of Labor began publishing the Occupational Outlook Handbook in 1949, which hits the tail-end of your timeframe. A library near you might have the older editions on microfilm.

A reference set entitled Working Americans: 1880-2005 by Scott Derks might be of interest. It's online via the Gale Virtual Reference Library. Check your nearby libraries to see if they have it. Each year has a section called "Family Profile" with a subsection called "Life At Work", which describes working conditions in popular occupations of the time. No full job descriptions, per se, though.
posted by Boxenmacher at 10:33 AM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: You should contact some larger trade unions and enquire about their archives/museums. My (small) union is only forty years old but I know I have some old job descriptions in the files.
posted by saucysault at 10:51 AM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: The OOH of 1949 was based on Veterans’ Administration
Manual M7-1, Occupational Outlook Information, from 1946. Some history here and here. The first pdf mentions Frank Parsons. His book Choosing a Vocation was published in 1909 and contains classifications of major occupations and "Conditions of Efficiency and Success in Different Industries."

For a more anecdotal approach, Studs Terkel wrote Working in 1974. Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs is the 2001 follow-up, of sorts. It was pulled together from a series of web articles, but I can't remember the web site.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:53 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I should have added that Parsons was a major figure in guidance counseling, and looking for more information about him might lead to pamphlets and brochures meant for the young job seeker.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2012

Response by poster: All great answers - thanks!

(I've got access to Working Americans through my library - definitely has some good tidbits in there.)

Many thanks!
posted by kristi at 6:43 PM on August 3, 2012

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