The 15 Worst Jobs Kids Used to Do

Most adults today have a story about a horrible job they held as a kid, but as bad as they thought it might have been the odds are overwhelming it wasn't nearly as awful (or lethal) as what children were expected to do in the past.

15. Castrato

Portrait of Carlo María Broschi aka Farinelli, the most famous and successful Castrato. Public Domain.

Medieval Europe prized its choir singers, and society knew of only one way to give grown men the voices of angels.

They were required to snip their testicles off, plain and simple. We’ll wait for the penny to drop because nothing else would if this were still allowed today.

Far from a symbolic vow of chastity, this was just intended to cut off the testosterone. Boys (most under the age of twelve and usually from poorer families hoping to benefit financially from the popularity of castrati in the 1500s) retained their high-pitched voices this way, and it also kept a castrati’s bones malleable enough as they grew into adulthood to accommodate their giant, powerful lungs.

On the bright side, they didn’t have to worry about fathering children if things got carried away. (Source: Gizmodo)

14. Loblolly

Surgery on a warship. Image: Public Domain

What’s worse than being operated on by primitive surgeons on a boat, in the middle of the ocean and without taking anesthesia? Very few things, as it happens. However, we’re guessing that being the child who assisted the operating surgeon probably wasn’t a cakewalk, either.

Most loblolly boys spent their time serving food to the sick, but they also had to restrain patients during surgery, get rid of limbs after amputation, empty toilets, and clean used medical instruments.

As you might have already realized from reading another story on this site your first McJob doesn’t look so bad in comparison, does it? (Source: World Wide Words)

13. Chimney Sweepers

A Swedish chimney sweeper boy. Public Domain / Nordiska museet

The poster child for unsafe jobs (couldn’t resist), chimney sweepers who came to harm on the job sparked many of the child labor laws we take for granted today.

The job gained particular notoriety during the Industrial Revolution, when society’s laws hadn’t caught up to the rapid development of manufacturing and commerce.

Why have children clean chimneys if it was so unsafe? They were the only ones small enough to fit in them. Just imagine what kind of illnesses and respiratory issues you would develop by working inside a giant, industrial chimney all day, every day… if you survived. (Source: Victorian Era)

12. Rat Catchers

Image: Topical Press Agency

Rats can save lives when trained properly, but they tended to spread disease in highly urban areas. Add the rising amount of waste from said urban areas, and you’ve got a score multiplier for mortality. Providing breeding grounds for rats created a job market for catching them, naturally.

In fact, Queen Victoria even had her own Royal Rat Catcher in Buckingham Palace by the name of Jack Black (no relation… probably).

Of course, the thought of handling potentially disease-ridden rats sounds unpleasant, but for many youth in Victorian times (in this profession’s case usually older and in their mid-to-late teens) it was still better than life in a coal mine or sweeping chimneys.

The best rat catchers didn’t just exterminate them. They captured the live rats for use in competitions in which terriers were trained to kill them all as quickly as possible. An entire gambling industry spawned around the “sport.” (Source: History House)