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8 Weird Jobs You Won’t Believe Actually Existed

A throwback to the jobs of the good—yet strange—ol’ days.

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Don’t let the name fool you! No one was getting paid to impregnate women. But some Brits were hired to act as human alarm clocks—literally. Back in Victorian England, a knocker-upper used a long fishing rod-like stick to tap three or four times on someone’s window to jolt a person awake for work without waking their neighbors. Most people in the profession used long poles, while others employed alternative methods such as peashooters, soft hammers, or rattles to wake people up in the wee hours of the morning. One female knocker-upper earned 30 shillings (a little more than a pound) each week, a surprisingly high salary for a woman of her time. In just two months, her earnings added up to the equivalent of an annual salary for a housemaid. (Not getting paid enough at your current job? (Learn how to job hunt while working at your current job.) Unfortunately, the invention of the alarm clock killed the knocker-upper industry. Now the closest thing we have to a human wake-up call is your mother or partner yelling, “Get up! You’re going to be late!”

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In the olden days, English medical schools were often in short supply of bodies to dissect for learning. Despite Parliament’s attempts to solve this problem by allowing schools to use the corpses of murderers, the schools’ needs were still unfulfilled and forced them to resort to other means–resurrectionists aka body snatchers. The tense competition between medical schools created desperation amongst the faculty to do whatever it took to keep their students. Teachers started offering large sums of money to men who dug up corpses in the dead of night for their human anatomy courses. Talk about a weird job! At first, only a few men worked as resurrectionists, but once word got out about the good pay, more people, particularly thieves, grabbed their shovels and headed to the graveyard. Once the thieves joined in, body snatching turned into a greedy trade. If a teacher bought a body from someone other than his or her usual supplier, the men would break into the dissecting rooms and cut up the bodies until they were deemed useless to study. Since no school wanted to risk losing their students, the teachers were constantly acceding to the demands of the ruthless resurrectionists. Now no one would want anyone digging up their deceased loved ones without their permission, but if it’s for the good of science, maybe that should be an option for someone to think about alongside becoming an organ donor. Here are the 9 signs you hate your job and how to find a career you love.

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Rat Catcher

Modern day exterminators may have poisonous chemicals to kill off pesky rodents, but none of them hold a flame to the legendary rat catcher himself, England’s very own Jack Black. The rat hunter fearlessly scooped up heaps of filthy rats from sewers, sidewalks and homes with his bare hands and shoved them into his version of a professional briefcase – a cage. “I once had the teeth of a rat break in my finger,” he told an 1840s journalist, “which was dreadful bad, swole, and putrefied, so that I had to have the broken bits pulled out with tweezers.” Black once recalled stuffing dozens of rats in his pockets, hands, under his arms, and his mouth after he pulled 300 rats out of a hole in a wall. Yikes! This seems like a weird job for the courageous Steve Irwin animal enthusiasts of the world, no matter how vicious or disease-ridden they may be.

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Since the 19th century, phrenology has been proven as nothing more than a pseudoscience unlike the “true science of the mind” that practitioners claimed it to be. Phrenology was based on measuring your psychological aptitude by measuring and feeling the shape of your head. Phrenologists would run their fingertips over someone’s head like a magical crystal ball in search of any telling elevations or indentations that could give them insight to a person’s character. Before background checks, many employers hired local phrenologists to do a character analysis for prospective employees to ensure they were honest and hard-working. (You can learn a thing or two from these dumb job applicants on what NOT to do.) One phrenologist in 1912 analyzed a little girl’s head and concluded that she possessed several remarkable qualities. “Her head is full at the sides, giving courage, energy, and executive power,” one of the notes read. “Hence, she will quickly translate her thoughts into actions and be known as a brave and fearless character.”

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Factory Lector

Story time wasn’t just for kindergarteners, in fact, factory workers used to enjoy their own story time. The tradition began in Cuban cigar factories back in the 1800s. To give employees a break from tirelessly rolling cigars for hours on end, a lector (typically an elected colleague) would perch on an elevated platform in the middle of the floor and read a book or newspaper out loud. Lectors would often go above and beyond by acting out scenes from the stories. If the workers enjoyed it, they would loudly bang their knives on their cutting boards in place of a round of applause. If not, the workers would adamantly vocalize their discontent. To pay for this entertainment, each worker donated 25 to 50 center of his weekly salary. These will be the most in-demand jobs in 2020. 

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Town crier

There’s no need to strain your neck or eyes reading the news on your phone, when someone can yell it to you, which let’s be honest, sounds way more amusing. The town criers were the original newsmen of the Medieval Ages, a time when illiteracy was commonplace and newspapers were nonexistent. The town criers shouted from the tops of their lungs “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!,” (which translates to “Hear Ye!”) and rang a hand bell to quickly catch the public’s attention and deliver the news of the day. Since they were often the bearer of bad news and worked for the monarchy, their lives were protected under the law from any angry townsperson. Any physical harm to a town crier was considered treasonous against the king and thus, the popular saying we use today, “Don’t shoot the messenger” was born.

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Before the age of automated pin setting in bowling alleys, there once was a time when young teenage boys sat at the end of a bowling lane waiting to pick up yet another set of knocked down pins. Think of pinsetters like the tennis ball boys you see running out to grab a stray ball at the U.S. Open. Agility and speed were two valued skills the pin boys needed to avoid getting injured by an oncoming bowling ball or flying bowling pin. One blogger’s grandfather worked as a pinsetter in his early teens where he scored free bowling and five cents for every game he set. Not much by today’s standards, but for a 14-year-old in the early 1900s, free fun and five cents was like hitting the jackpot. “He learned the skills necessary to quickly drop the pins,” said the blogger. “And the agility to avoid getting splattered by errant pins and bowling balls.” Pin setting sounds like a job meant only for the athletically inclined, not exactly the best fit for a senior citizen.

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An old-fashioned nomenclator, or “name caller” in Latin, could come in handy when you’re frantically scrolling through your phone or Facebook in an attempt to put a name to an acquaintance approaching you at a party. In ancient Rome, politicians hired nomenclators to call out or whisper names of people in their ears as they approached them during a political rally. As to why this weird job became a profession remains a mystery. Some theorize that it was to keep up appearances or because there were just too many names and faces for one person to remember by themselves.

Ashley Lewis
Ashley is an Assistant Editor at Reader’s Digest. She received her Master’s Degree from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2015. Before joining Reader’s Digest, she was a Jason Sheftell Fellow at the New York Daily News and interned at Seventeen and FOX News. When Ashley is not diligently fact-checking the magazine or writing for, she enjoys cooking (butternut squash pizza is her signature dish), binge-watching teen rom-coms on Netflix that she’s way too old for, and hiking (and falling down) mountains.