Extremely Dangerous Jobs of the 20th Century

By Jack Ripley | November 30, 2023

It was a dangerous job, but someone had to carve the presidents into Mt. Rushmore

Have you heard the phrase “it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it?” That could apply any of the dangerous and death defying jobs from the 20th century that we’ve catalogued here. Regardless of where they lived, people have always wanted to provide for their families. In some instances that meant that they had to get into a profession that put them in harm’s way on a day to day basis.

Throughout time men and women have always risen to the challenge of accomplishing something great. Whether they were working on the Eiffel Tower or inventing products that change the way we live today, they worked through intense situations and came out the other side a better person. How would you have stacked up at these dangerous jobs from the 20th century? Upwards and onwards. 

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In the 1920s, the state historian of South Dakota, Doane Robinson, had an idea to boost tourism in the Black Hills: carve historic figures into “the Needles,” several large granite pillars. Eventually, Mount Rushmore was chosen as the site for Gutzon Borglum to begin the project depicting four of America’s important figures. Calvin Coolidge delivered the dedication speech in 1927 and around 400 workers set out to chip away at the rock. Or, to be more exact, to hammer, drill, dynamite and chisel their way into the mountain, removing 450,000 tons of rock as they sculpted the faces. While the debris of the mountain was left where it fell, no lives were lost in the process.

Whether that means driving all night, or putting their pedal to the metal while Sunday drivers clog up the highway, truckers are going to get where they need to be on time. This dedication to punctuality can be dangerous, and many drivers who try to beat the clock can end up victims of their own need to succeed. 

Only the most courageous of men could fell redwoods in the early 1900s

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Redwood trees are some of the largest and oldest organisms on Earth. The redwoods resist decay and are fire tolerant, and of course, are highly desirable for their wood. This wood was even more desirable after the 1906 earthquake damaged much of San Francisco. The most sought-after part of the tree was, of course, the hardest to get: the top. In the early days, the fellers were raised on scaffolds. They wedged boards into the sides of the tree so they had a place to stand and cut. After the tree was felled, the bucker cut off the limbs and cut the tree into more manageable lengths. Then the peeler went to work removing the bark. Yes, the tools that they used were quite dangerous, but the shear size of the trees increased the danger even more.