Jobs in 1900

Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer, February 1996

Census data for 1900 tell us that in Utah 73,840 men and 10,764 women were gainfully employed. For men the most important job categories were agriculture, manufacturing and mechanical pursuits, and trade and transportation. For women the top three were domestic and personal service, manufacturing and mechanical pursuits, and professional services. But what specific occupations were Utahns engaged in all over the state? One fascinating source of information is the Utah State Gazetteer. This publication of R. L. Polk may not be as accurate or complete as the Census, but its listings are informative and sometimes puzzling and entertaining.

In Beaver, for example, Lena Beck and Annie Low were milliners, Robert Briggs was a shoemaker, and Edward Fernley a blacksmith. There were operators of saw, planing, and grist mills. Naturally, Beaverites also were farmers and livestock raisers, carpenters, teachers, and storekeepers of various kinds. These were all occupations typical of Utah towns at that time.

Only the smallest burgs, usually stops on a railroad line miles from the county seat, failed to have occupational diversity, and some quite small towns have some surprising listings. Hinckley, Millard County, for example, with a population of 400 had one of the state’s few coopers, Alonzo Dalton. And it also had a music teacher, Frank Whitehead. Music teacher, in fact, proves to be one of the puzzling occupations found in the Gazetteer. One would expect to find music teachers in larger cities; in Salt Lake, Ogden, and Provo they are usually defined by specialty (piano teacher, violin teacher, voice teacher, etc.) rather than the generic music teacher. But some very small Utah towns had music teachers: George Bowler in Gunlock, Washington County (pop. 175); and in Stockton, Tooele County (pop. 150), there were three—Lizzie Mackinson, Gertie Frank, and James G. Brown who was also the local telegraph agent.

Brown is typical of the Utahns with one or more occupations: W. E. Gifford of Spring dale, Washington County, was an axe handle manufacturer, farmer, and postmaster. The folks in Goshen, Utah County, were equally busy: Henry Draper, flour mill operator and blacksmith; William Edwards, constable and farmer; Brigham Fowler, music teacher and brickmaker; Peter Nelson, farmer and general store owner; George M. Taylor, farmer and blacksmith; and topping them all Peter Okelberry who, in addition to running a general store, was also a carpenter and a dentist. In Huntsville, Weber County, where most everyone was in the dairy business or breeding cattle (there was one lone sheep breeder, Sylvester Grow), people also worked at many jobs: Karen M. Madsen was a carpet weaver, one of 13 listed statewide; Lars Petersen made baskets and repaired watches; and James C. Wangsgard, merchant, cattle breeder, and dairyman, was also the proprietor of the Wangsgard Dancing Hall.

Women, in addition to serving as midwives, teachers, nurses, milliners, and dressmakers, were sometimes highly visible as business owners. Many ran general or specialty stores, and they were the typical owners and operators of boardinghouses and small hotels. In small towns their establishments catered to travelers, especially drummers, as traveling salesmen were sometimes called, and other businessmen. In Fillmore, Millard County, Eunice E. Huntsman was the proprietor of Huntsman House, “Headquarters for Commercial Men, First-class Accommodations, Rates Reasonable.” Guests at her establishment may also have used the services of Kelly & Kelly Stage Line which ran between Clear Lake and Fillmore and offered “General Livery…for Drummers and Travelers of all Kinds at Popular Prices.”

In the mining town of Mercur, Tooele County, most of the men were working in the mines, but James H. Oliver ran a dye works, John Collette was a cigarmaker, and four Chinese—Quong Hing, Sam Hing, Wing Hi, and Yee Wah—operated laundries. In Willard, Box Elder County, many of the folks grew fruit, but four women—Lucina Grandpre, Mary Harding, Sara Wells, and Maria Zundle—were involved in silk culture.

Residents of Utah’s capital city had a wonderful array of jobs, including employment services. James Allen ran a camping corral at 333 South State; Mr. and Mrs. R. L. Landrum operated Landrum’s Permanent Terpsichorean and Dramatic College; Annie L. Johnson, perhaps an early New Ager, advertised her school of self-culture; Harriet Fontyn and Josephine Ward were clairvoyants; and George Cripps was a curled hair manufacturer. Other occupations included scavenger, umbrella maker, shirtmaker, stationer, potter, masseur, coppersmith, bootblack, linguist, kalsominer, fruit tree inspector, washboard manufacturer, magnetic healer, and drayman.

Utah boasted no less than 54 apiarists, a majority of them in the Cache County towns of Smithfield and Hyrum. Logan had a butter box manufacturer, O. C. Bluemel, who also made egg cases and packing crates. The Gazetteer‘s classified business directory contains three and a half pages of blacksmiths, almost seven pages of dressmakers, three and a half pages of mining companies; more than a full page of music teachers, two and three-fourths pages of saloons, almost two pages of shoemakers, and one and a quarter pages of livery and boarding stables. The state’s 32 plumbing firms were located in the larger cities.

Some occupations seldom heard of today included whip manufacturer; there were two in Salt Lake, Louis Hooks and E. F. Martin. There were 27 wagon makers in the state and four carriage painters. There were bell hangers, a mechanopath, ferry operators, tinsmiths, seed cleaners, umbrella repairers, capitalists, a glove manufacturer, broom makers, Indian traders, city bill posters, wheelwrights, tripe dressers, tanners and curriers, and choppers of kindling.

Clearly Utahns stood ready, willing, and able to work at a wide variety of jobs. Many were self-employed. They found a need for a product like curled hair or tripe or a service such as hanging bells or repairing umbrellas, creating new job categories to puzzle the census takers.

See R. L. Polk and Co.’s Utah State Gazetteer, 1900.