Thursday, October 09, 2014


Last week, I applied for an update in my life insurance policy.

This updated application required a phone interview, which took so long that I almost wanted to kill myself (thus triggering the policy itself, potentially) before it ended.

One question, though, was quite interesting.

I was asked if my profession was any of the following hazardous occupations:

There are endless question trees in these interviews, but I assume when it comes to explosives, a simple "yes" would have terminated the branch.

I also had no idea that being a carny (amusement) was considered such a hazardous occupation. That rabbit hole, led to The Life of a Carnie (a stunning photo essay) and IamA Former Carnie (reddit), which are both worth reading.

What struck me about the different occupations listed in the question is how little that list has probably changed over the years. An insurance applicant in the 1800s had some of the same occupations (logging and mining, certainly), and it's a little puzzle to figure out when the various categories were added. Dynamite was invented in 1867, but I don't know when it was first widely used. The first rebreather (for commercial diving, potentially) was the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus (what a band name!) in 1910. Spindletop heralded a massive expansion of the oil industry in 1901.

I looked online to see if I could find any life insurance applications from the 19th century, but no luck. I did, however, find this little little snippet:
The first insurance company in the United States was formed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1735, offering fire insurance.  Life insurance wasn’t added until 1760. In the early years that life insurance was offered in the U.S., it was not nearly as popular as flood and fire insurance, and was even preached against as wicked by religious leaders.  Their argument was that purchasing life insurance was akin to gambling and betting against God.

Maybe chimney sweep and knacker were on the list at one point long, long ago.

I found one other interesting bit while I was poking around: Victorian Occupations: the 1891 London Census. Here are just a few of the occupations listed (seriously, the list is absolutely huge--this is just from the early "A" listing:
Alblastere--crossbow man
Ankle Beater-- A young person who helped to drive the cattle to market
Antigropelos Maker--A person who made waterproof leggings
Armiger--Squire who carried the armour of a knight, or one entitled to bear heraldic arms

If you're also nosing around in this list, and see something interesting, please let me know.

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