Want a Job in 1816 Pittsburgh?

Many common occupations have gone to pasture

We’ve been looking at surprising things you don’t know about 1816. That was the year Pittsburgh got big enough to become a city. So far, we’ve learned:


  • There was no summer that year.
  • The City of Bridges had no bridges yet.
  • Public love-making was quite popular (waltzing).
  • You paid nothing to mail a letter. You paid a lot to get one.

Now, we’ll send you back to 1816 to look for a job. Someone’s written a resume for you. Problem is you probably don’t know half the occupations listed on it. The following test may help.

The  occupations on this test came from a Pittsburgh directory compiled in 1815.

1. You are an experienced skin dresser. That means
2. You say you are a drayman. That means
3. As a milliner, you
4. You say you are a chandler. It’s not your name. It means
5. As a longtime glover, you
6. You want to be a white-smith rather than a black-smith because
7. As a nail cutter you have seen a lot of
8. You can’t be a carter without
9. You say you are a gentleman. That means
10. As a mantua-maker, you enhance the appearance of
11. Being a morocco dresser, you must know
If you got more than half correct, chances are good you will get hired in 1816. After all, Pittsburgh was booming. The War of 1812 (it lasted into 1815) made it a center of military supplies and reinforced it as the gateway to go after Indian land in the Midwest.
Making boots at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts the same way they did in Pittsburgh in 1816.

Making boots at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts the same way they did in Pittsburgh in 1816.

Get the Job You Want

In addition, the names of the most common occupations will be familiar to you.

Just over 5,000 people were living on the patch of land we now recognize as downtown Pittsburgh. The directory lists about 1,500 heads of household there.

Of those, 44 were shoemakers or bootmakers. If you ever had leather-soled shoes, you know they don’t last. Shoemakers didn’t have long-lasting, man-made materials to work with. So, there was plenty of shoe work to go around. Since the past tense of shoe is shod, you can honestly tell them your work is shoddy and they will hire you.

Many widows became washwomen and keepers of boarding houses

Many widows became washwomen and keepers of boarding houses

Cast Into the Job of Widow

Widows are quite common in the directory.

Many operated boarding houses, a common way for women to make ends meet after losing their husbands. With the toll childbirth took on women, there may well have been more widowers than widows, but they are not recognized in the directory.

Men are listed by occupation not marital status.

Catharine Wilkins, of the family for which Wilkinsburg and Wilkins Township get their names,  got special treatment. She is listed as a widow and a “gentlewoman.”

The next woman in line did not get the same respect. Jane Wilky is listed as a widow and washwoman.

The most common professions among women were seamstress and milliner. No wonder. Remember, ready-to-wear, factory-made clothing was still a long way off for women.

It had only just started for men. Factory-made uniforms for the War of 1812 proved quite popular among men. Men’s simpler fashion lines lent themselves to mechanized production. Women had to wait another century.

Interestingly, two men are listed as hairdressers in Pittsburgh. No women are.

Mute witness to a time when Pittsburghers of all sizes walked a very different city.

Mute witness to a time when Pittsburghers of all sizes walked a very different city.

If you need to get your hair done for your job interview, you can go to Edward Frethy on Front Street, between Wood and Market streets, or Edward Pratt on Wood Street, between Diamond Alley and Fifth Street.

By the way, if you are a man, don’t go to a clothier for clothing. Clothiers make cloth.

You want to go to one of the many tailors in town. Only, they spelled it “taylor” in Pittsburgh back then.

There were many men plastering new walls in the growing city. Again, spelling and pronunciation could be an issue for you, though. They called themselves plaisterers.

You will be hard-pressed to match the misfortune of one of the widows in the directory.

The poor woman was destined to be a widow. She married a Corpse.

Seriously. Her name was Mary Corpse. You can find her on Penn Avenue between Hand and Irwin streets. She’s listed as a “tayloress,” meaning she tailors suits for men. Maybe they weren’t living men. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can look over the directory yourself here.



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