Extremely Dangerous Jobs of the 20th Century
By | March 10, 2020
It was a dangerous job, but someone had to carve the presidents into Mt. Rushmore
Have you heard the phrase “it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it?” That could apply any of the dangerous jobs from the 20th century that we’ve catalogued here. Regardless of where they lived, people have always wanted to provide for their families. In some instances that meant that they had to get into a profession that put them in harm’s way on a day to day basis.
Throughout time men and women have always risen to the challenge of accomplishing something great. Whether they were working on the Eiffel Tower or inventing products that change the way we live today, they worked through intense situations and came out the other side a better person. How would you have stacked up at these dangerous jobs from the 20th century? Upwards and onwards.
Whether that means driving all night, or putting their pedal to the metal while Sunday drivers clog up the highway, truckers are going to get where they need to be on time. This dedication to punctuality can be dangerous, and many drivers who try to beat the clock can end up victims of their own need to succeed.
Only the most courageous of men could fell redwoods in the early 1900s
Many overhead powerline workers in 1952, in Nagoya, Japan were in for a shock
Bringing New York and New Jersey together with the George Washington Bridge
A Chicago police officer examines thirteen bullet holes in a glass window, Chicago 1920s.
This deep-sea diver gets big air, 1915
This acrobatic man "enjoys" a cup of tea on a construction beam
Divers in the late 19th century were saddled with suits more than three times their weight
A foundryman in at the Portland Stove Foundry doing his best to stay cool
A young coal miner getting dirty to help his family
The heights weren't the most dangerous part of building San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge
Jet fighters live la vida loca
Painters working on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge could only work on days with perfect weather and no wind
Delivering mail by plane in 1918 could make you famous
A London telephone engineer attaches a phone cable 50 feet in the air, no big deal
Navy SEAL boarding a ship, what did you do today?
How's the weather up there? This New York building worker waves hello on a break from construction
Photographer Charles Clyde Ebbets risks his life for the perfect photo
Phyllis Latour Doyle hid secret codes in her knitting to avoid detection by the Nazis
It's lonely at the top, steel riggers in New York get to work
The beauty of space is only paralleled by how terrifying it is
Hopefully the guys in this bullet proof vest test were friends
Two workers on the Empire State Building admire their work from 1,000 feet in the air
Yet another job not for those who are afraid of heights, there were 3,400 men who worked on the construction of the Empire State Building. Some of them were of European descent, while others were Mohawk. As one worker said, the Mohawk were fearless while working so high above ground. At least they seemed to be. Construction started on March 17, 1930 and finished on May 1, 1931. The iconic 86-story building held the title of the world’s tallest building for a time. Its construction was captured extensively in photographs, allowing those of us unwilling to scale to those heights a view of what the workers must have seen.
If a tree falls in the woods
Construction workers take a break in New York City
When you're painting the Eiffel Tower you've got to look good
What's that sound? It's workers playing harmonica during the construction of the Rockefeller Center skyscraper in New York City, 1932
' Ello guvna, Manchester City detectives pose on a break from solving crimes
Race car drivers in the 1940s hit the track
A man working in hat manufacture with no protective equipment, putting him at risk for mercury poisoning, 1938
Chimney sweeps were lucky if they didn't get carcinoma
Working with glow-in-the-dark radioactive paint gave the “Radium Girls” radiation poisoning
Everyone needs a safety net, especially the guys building the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Sculptors cutting out Thomas Jefferson's eye while working on Mount Rushmore
A weaver sucking thread through the eye of a shuttle, it was both dangerous and unsanitary
These sailors aboard the Garthsnaid bring a new meaning to phrase "sea sick"
Breaker boys sorting coal when they should be in school
Bethlehem Steel workers on their last day of work in October 1983
Firefighters calling for water in the 1980s
It’s an understatement to say that firefighters put their life on the line whenever they go to work. There’s the constant question of when will they have to face a major blaze, and when it could be the one to wipe them out. Of course this isn’t simply a 20th century problem, firefighters have been saving people for generations but it’s only in the late 20th century that their actions have been captured so vividly. These firefighters calling for water in this photo are obviously in the midst of a stressful situation, but that’s nothing new for these guys.
Two strapping fishermen wait to go out to sea
The life of a fisherman is one of early mornings, uneasy seas, and weather that can’t be trusted. The folks who dedicated themselves to this job in the early 20th century didn’t do so because they looked cool in a cable knit sweater or smoking a pipe, but because they needed to provide for their families. In times of bounty and famine they woke up before the sun to try and catch some fish. The life of a fisherman was that waiting for the good and dealing with the bad. Many men lost their lives while fishing in rough seas, but no one complained, that was simply their way of life.
Roofers baking in the sun
Most readers are lucky enough to have avoided spending time on a hot roof, baking under the summer sun. Roofing is a deceptively dangerous job. Not only is there the very real possibility of falling off the roof and getting a few broken ribs, but if a roofer isn’t safe, and they don’t drink enough water then they run the risk of getting sun stroke, or at the very least a major sun burn. Full time roofers don’t have the luxury to work for a couple hours in the morning and again at night, they have to be up there all day to make sure they get the job done.
A grizzled trucker shows off his choice machine
A fascination sprung up around trucking in the 1970s that made the profession seem like it was something that people did when they wanted to have fun and make a couple extra bucks, but that’s far from the truth. Truckers have earned a reputation for being the pirates of the highway, but that’s because they have to bend the rules a little to make sure their load’s delivered in time. Whether that means driving all night, or putting their pedal to the metal while Sunday drivers clog up the highway, truckers are going to get where they need to be on time.