Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Common Occupations in 1900

Photo of mule drivers leading mules pulling coal cars out of the mine

Drivers lead mules pulling coal cars out of the mine.

Building Trades and Real Estate

Owns property to rent out to people or businesses
Hod carrier
Works with bricklayers carrying loads of bricks
Cuts and shapes stone and uses it to construct buildings
Chisels sculptures and carved decorations on buildings
Constructs and repairs systems for piping water and sewage and natural gas for light and heat. Installs home heating systems that were first starting to appear in 1900.
A woodworker who makes furniture
Builder or building contractor
Buys materials and hires and oversees all the different workers needed for a building project

General Labor

Day Laborer
"Laborer" or "day laborer" with no particular job or employer listed on the census. These workers did whatever physical jobs they could find, usually hired for just days or weeks at a time.

Manufacturing - Labor

Steelworker jobs

The census might list them as a laborer in the "Steel Works" or one of the various places in the mill: Bolt Works, Tube Works, Wire Works, Beam Yard, Blooming Mill, Foundry, Furnace, Open Hearth, Mill, Rolling Mill, Ore Yard, Machine Shop, Forge, etc.
Crane man
Operates the overhead machines that move ladles of hot steel, ingots, and other heavy loads.
Furnaceman, Laborer at furnace
Operates blast furnace or converter to smelt (melt together) ores to make iron or purifies iron into steel
Heater, Heaters keeper
Operates furnace to reheat bars or plates of steel in a furnace so they can go on to be forged, rolled, straightened, or other processes.
Master Mechanic
Keeps railroad or mill machinery in working order.
Runs power-driven metal-cutting, boring and grinding machines set up to make many identical metal parts
Designs, builds, or repairs mills or mill machinery
Rail straightener
Finishes the last step in rolling steel rails for the railroad
Shapes hot iron or steel by hammering (by hand or by machine)
Pours molten steel into molds to make shapes (a process called "casting")
Makes sand moulds and cores for casting metal
Operates machines called "mills" that shape hot steel by pressing it between two rotating steel rollers.
Blooming mills flatten ingots into "blooms" that are rolled into smaller shapes in rolling mills.
Rolling mills press hot steel flatter and flatter to make sheets, rails, bars, or other shapes.
Cuts or "turns" shapes with a lathe, a machine used to spinning metal or wood
Wire drawer
Makes wire of a certain thickness by pulling metal through smaller and smaller holes (either by hand or machine)
Make wooden patterns for casting or stamping steel into shapes

Other manufacturing

Gas maker
Works processing natural gas, which was often used for lighting in 1900.
Brewer, laborer in brewery
Mixes, presses, and ferments (brews) grains or fruits to make alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages

Manufacturing - Management and administration

Worker in charge of another group of workers in a factory, mine, rail yard, or construction site.
Head over all the workers and operations at a workplace
Clerk in brewery, mill, railroad
Secretary or bookkeeper who keeps office records
Often works in the general offices rather than the factories
Watches the finances in a company
Other management workers:
Supervisor, officer, executive, administrator, director


Coal miner was a general term just like "steelworker." The mines needed workers skilled in all the different jobs required to get to the coal underground, loosen it from the earth, break it into pieces that mules or humans (and later power machines) could handle, transport it out of the mine, sort and clean it, and finally ship off it to customers. "Miners" worked inside the mine; "company men" worked outside the mine.

Inside workers

Pick miner
Loosens coal with picks, drills, and explosives, then loads it onto cars. Paid by the carload of coal. (When we think of "coalminer" we usually picture a pick miner.)
Shot Firers
Drills holes in the coal, packs them with gun powder, then explodes it to loosen coal
Rock man
Blasts out rock to reach the coal underground and make an entrance to the mine
Daily inspects every area of the mine for safety explosive gasses, bad roofs and other dangers
Mule Driver, Mule Boss
Works the mules that carry cars of coal in the mine, takes care of the mules in their underground barn
Operates the electric "motor" that hauls coal cars and the "man train" on tracks in the mine
Spragger, trip rider, brakeman
The motorman's helper who stops, connects, and disconnects cars
Installs and repairs the electric trolley cables that power the motor
Doorboy, trapper
Boys who open and close ventilation doors for the motor.

Outside workers

Tipple workers
A tipple is a building outside the mine where the cars are unloaded by tipping them over onto a conveyer belt. In offices and shops nearby work shop maintenance men, watchmen, blacksmith, electricians, watchmen
Weighs carloads of coal -- miners' were paid by the ton
Checks cars leaving the mine for slate
Breaker boy, bony picker, picker
Removes pieces of slate and rock ("boney") from the coal
Coke worker
Makes coke, a purified coal used to make steel, out of coal by heating it in beehive coke ovens.


Foreman and assistants
In charge all the workings and workers inside the mine
Boss over everybody at the mine -- inside and outside
Other management jobs in coal mining:
Manager, mine owner or operator
Mine Inspector
Government employee who checks to be sure the mine was obeying mining laws

More about coal mining jobs in the article "Old Time Mining" published by IUP libraries.


Doctor, Physician
Minister, Priest, Rabbi, Pastor
School Teacher
Veterinary Surgeon
Civil Engineer
Designs public building projects, like bridges and roads

Retail and Wholesale Sales

Wholesalers place huge orders with manufacturers, then sell smaller quantities to their customers -- "retailers," builders, or smaller manufacturers. Retail stores and salespeople sell small quantities directly to the final customers.

Clerk on the census could mean either a sales clerk in  a retail store or a clerk working in an office. If you see "clerk" in a neighborhood where there are also stores and merchants mentioned, they are probably salesclerks.

Other sales job titles:
Trade, dealer, merchant, storekeeper, owner, agent,
Makes complete dresses, skirts, and other women's clothing. Usually a woman.
A woman who sews. May or may not be a dressmaker.
Makes clothing, like overcoats, suits, jackets, and skirts, that is fitted neatly and sized exactly to customers needs. Also alters ready-made clothes to fit. Usually a man -- a woman tailor was sometimes called a "tailoress."
Maker of women's hats
Seller of men's clothing
Common retail stores:
Furniture, Hardware, Dry Goods, Mercantile, General Store, Grocer, Green grocer, Butcher, Music, Shoes, clothing
Pharmacist who owns a drug store
Salesman/woman on the census:
Could be wholesale or retail sales. Wholesale salespeople are often called "sales representatives" or "sales reps" for short.
Delivery men for retail businesses:
ice man, coal man, milk man, bread man, huckster
Packing house
Wholesale meat and ice


Office boy
Utility company employees: electric light, natural gas
Draughtsman (draftsman)
Hotel keeper
Barber, hairdresser
Saloon keeper, bar keeper
Cook, Chef
Laundry, Laundress
Servant, maid, manservant
Repairmen, handyman



Usually a railroad engineer who drives a locomotive, also "Locomotive Engineer"
Carries luggage at a railroad station or works in a sleeping (Pullman) car or parlor car, also "Pullman porter"
Yard Master
Weighs freight to find out how much to charge customers
Boiler Fireman
Keeps steam engines stoked with coal and water in the engine boiler
Applies brakes in a train -- every car has brakes, which must be applied at the same time

Trolley or street railway

Trolley driver
Motor House


Drives a team of animals pulling a freight wagon
Works at a livery, a stable where horses and carriages are kept for rent
Drives a horse-drawn carriage




Dairyman or dairy farmer
Truck farmer
Vegetable farmer
A "day laborer" on a farm
Grinds wheat, corn, and other grain into flour or corn at a mill
Harvests crops with large machines called reapers, harvesters, or combines
Thresherman or thresher
Separates the seeds from harvested plants
Reapers and threshers owned their equipment and traveled from farm to farm at harvest time.



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