Rat-catchers dipping rats, Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dipping rats in buckets of petrol to kill fleas for plague control. Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920., The Wellcome Library, Public Domain Mark

Introduction

Many people take for granted that going to work entails sitting in an office at a computer, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 - if you’re lucky. But there are alternative existences out there—worlds of truly weird jobs. Weird is not always bad, sometimes just archaic or nonsensical, but these are definitely not jobs for everyone…

Catching Rats

Rat-catchers, pest control operatives or pest technicians. People with this occupation caught rats for a living, mainly as a form of pest control. Keeping the rat population under control prevented the spread of disease to man, most notoriously the Black Plague, and also prevented damage to food supplies.

Some reports show that rat-catchers would raise the rat population rather that catching them. Why? To increase their eventual payment from the town or city they were employed by. These rat-catchers were active in Liverpool - they caught the rats, then dipped them in buckets of petrol to kill the fleas and hoped to control the plague this way.

Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers, dressed in protective clothing with traps and equipment, Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920., The Wellcome Library, Public Domain Mark
Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers, dressed in protective clothing with traps and equipment, Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920., The Wellcome Library, Public Domain Mark
 Rat-catchers dipping rats, Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dipping rats in buckets of petrol to kill fleas for plague control. Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920., The Wellcome Library, Public Domain Mark
Rat-catchers dipping rats, Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dipping rats in buckets of petrol to kill fleas for plague control. Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920., The Wellcome Library, Public Domain Mark

Painting the Eiffel Tower

Everywhere needs a bit of a spruce up now and then. At home, that means getting the vacuum out or going outside with a tin of paint and a ladder. Imagine the task though, if the building you’re trying to give a face-lift is the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

These pictures show men at work painting the Tower in 1910, 1924 and 1932. The first image, from 1924, seems like a European equivalent to that iconic black and white photograph of New York workmen taking a rest on the girder of an emerging skyscraper.

Repainting of the Eiffel Tower, Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique,1924, The French National Library, CC BY
Repainting of the Eiffel Tower, Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique,1924, The French National Library, CC BY
Repainting of the Eiffel Tower, Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique,1924, The French National Library, CC BY
Repainting of the Eiffel Tower, Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique,1924, The French National Library, CC BY
Repainting of the Eiffel Tower, Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique,1924, The French National Library, CC BY
Repainting of the Eiffel Tower, Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique,1924, The French National Library, CC BY

Plague Doctors

The name already gives an idea of what these peculiarly dressed doctors were doing - they treated those who had the plague. Plague doctors were specifically hired by towns that had many victims in times of plague epidemics. Since the city was paying their salary, they treated everyone: both the rich and the poor. The doctors were not normally professionally trained experienced physicians or surgeons, and often were second-rate doctors not able to otherwise run a successful medical business or young physicians trying to establish themselves. There are records that in one case a plague doctor had been a fruit-seller before his employment as a physician.

Here’s a short description of a 17th and 18th century plague doctor:

‘The nose half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak. Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breaches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots and a short-sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breaches. The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin… with spectacles over the eyes.’

Mask used by a plague doctor, 1932, The Wellcome Library, CC BY
Mask used by a plague doctor, 1932, The Wellcome Library, CC BY

Malted Barley, Yeast and Hop

Working in a brewery might not be that peculiar but some jobs within a brewery may not be what you’d expect today. A great example is cleaning out beer boilers with a hose and a good cleaning brush, scrubbing all the dirt from the inside.

These photos were taken in the Dutch Phoenix Brewery in Amestfoort. The brewery was built in 1873, and got this name after a takeover in 1891. The mindset of the Phoenix Brewery was quite modern for its time. In 1917,they brought a new alcohol-free beer called ‘Malto’ to the market. Marketing-wise, the brewery was very creative, getting all their branding done by the well-known Dutch graphic designer Nicolaas Petrus de Koo.