Business Then and Now

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

They were once called chiffoniers, then ragpickers, then junk dealers; now they are secondhand clothes dealers.

Since biblical times, people have worked for food, clothing, and shelter. They still do, but the jobs themselves have changed a great deal, and many professions are now obsolete, no longer useful. For instance, old-fashioned lamplighters have been replaced by electrical switches. Other professions have been modernized. The pony express driver is now a mailperson driving a truck. Yet some jobs haven't changed at all. Farmers in the Holy Land grew olives, figs, and grapes. Today, farmers in this region do the same. But no matter how tools change with time and jobs disappear or change, it seems that people will always have to work to get what they need.


In biblical times, the main job of apothecarists was to grind minerals, vegetable oils, and animal fats to make medicines as well as cosmetics and perfumes. Today, pharmacists buy perfumes and cosmetics to sell. Their main role is to prepare and fill prescriptions ordered by doctors for their patients.

Carter/Garbage Collector

Animals used to be the principal means of transportation for both people and things. Although useful, they were also messy, and one of the carter's jobs was to remove animal waste from the streets. Today's garbage collector has to transport much more than dung.

Coachman/Limousine Driver

Coachmen transported wealthy people in a comfortable, closed, four-wheeled carriage pulled by one or more horses. Today, wealthy people are driven in limousines, very large, luxurious cars often equipped with telephones and television.


Cotters were hired by wealthy landowners to work on farms at harvest time, dig ditches, plant crops, and thatch roofs. Groundskeepers today are responsible for the upkeep and management of the lawns and gardens of estates for wealthy people, corporations, or nonprofit organizations such as museums.

Doorkeeper/Doorman, Security Guard

For a long time, the people guarding the entrances to temples and private homes have been called doorkeepers. In the past, they were also responsible for guarding the sheep at night. Our modern city doormen in uniform announce visitors, call for taxis, and also guard the building entrance. There's one big difference between then and now—no sheep.


This job in Hebrew is called mikabes, one employed as a person who either cleans dirty clothes or removes natural oils from freshly woven cloth. Detergents were placed in hot water to wash the cloth, which was then stamped on, banged with a metal instrument, and scraped repeatedly. It was a time-consuming and difficult job. Dry cleaners today have machines that use chemicals to remove stains from clothes and then press, shape, and iron them.

Juggler, Wandering Minstrel/Street Entertainer

In the 13th century, jugglers and wandering minstrels entertained people on the street. They tossed balls in the air and sang songs, hoping people would give them money. Some things never change. They are still found in many large cities and sometimes at country fairs.


They were once called baggage smashers or baggagers, now they are porters or redcaps.

Peddlers rode their horses laden with pots, pans, needles, and cutlery throughout villages and towns, trading their goods for other products people wanted. Sometimes they would trade for food or clothing for themselves. Today our world is full of different kinds of salespersons, from travelers to telemarketers to shop workers. They no longer trade goods for other goods but earn a salary so that they can buy their own necessities.


The job of scribe dates from at least 3000 B.C., when few people knew how to write. Those who did held positions of importance in the temple or palace. Scribes first recorded information on clay tablets. Later they used parchment, quills, and ink. Today, secretaries use computers, copiers, fax machines, and many other tools in order to communicate and keep records.


The tinker rode a horse and carried his tools in his saddlebag. He plugged holes in leaky basins, made new handles for iron dippers, and remade spoons and bowls. Handymen today still carry their tools with them as they travel about, making small repairs.

Town Crier/TV News Announcer

Every village had a town crier who announced the important news of the day. The job required a loud, clear voice so that all the villagers could hear the information. Television now carries news broadcasts to millions of people throughout the world. Today we are just as likely to see events as they happen rather than hear about them later.


The medieval vizier is the judge of today. Viziers listened to problems and impartially decided who was right and who was wrong. Today the judge is the highest court official, but in most cases, a jury of twelve people determines the guilt or innocence of the accused person. The judge decides the sentence, or punishment, if necessary.

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