Some of the Earliest Occupations in Montgomery County

Do you know what a Qwylwryghte, a Stock Maker, or a Hackneyman does? These are some of the old occupations, of which many are archaic, that may show up on old documents relating to our ancestors. Some of the occupations do not exist today or are called other names. Below you can find representations of many varied occupations that Montgomery County residents engaged in during the early 20th Century, though the list is not at all comprehensive.

Blacksmith/Wheelwright/Cabinet Maker

A qwylwryghte — don’t ask me to pronounce it! — is one who makes wheels, or works with wood.

Philip Reed outside of his Blacksmith Shop ca. early 1900s.

Philip Reed (1845-1918) outside his blacksmith shop in Darnestown, ca. 1901

Formerly located on Darnestown Road near the intersection of Seneca Road, Philip Reed operated a blacksmith, wheelwright, and cabinet making business next to his home. These occupations overlapped due to the similar skills they required: the same metal-working tools that were used for horseshoeing could be used to make wheel-rims and other metal wagon parts; the same woodworking skills that created wagons could be used to make pieces of furniture for the home. As late as 1910, there were still approximately 60 blacksmith shops in the county.

Stock Maker

Philip Reed

Philip Reed (1845-1918), Maker of Gunstocks for Sportsmen

From the June 13, 1940 edition of The Montgomery County Sentinel:

We also read that Philip Reed built up great fame for the town as a maker of gun stocks for sportsmen – he was the father of the Reed Brothers, our local auto dealers. Edgar Reed tells us his grandfather was a cabinet maker and wood carver, but that the wood working talent no longer seems to run in the family.

A Stock Maker carves gun stocks from wood (usually walnut) and fits them to the metal parts of the gun (receiver and barrel). Very high grade firearms may have stocks fashioned from very costly blanks, mostly of one of the walnut varieties, specially chosen for its rare and highly figured grain. The fashioning of high end gun stocks calls for an extremely high level of skill and craftsmanship.


The meaning of Hackneyman is a man who hires out horses and carriages.

Livery-Stable Keeper, Darnestown

An unidentified livery stable in Montgomery County.

Closely related to the blacksmithing and wheelwrighting industry, the livery-stable keeper provided horses that were used in everyday tasks and transportation. The liveryman boarded horses for rent and also provided carriages and wagons. Compared to our modern world, the blacksmith-wheelwright correlates to the auto repair shop, and the livery to the car rental business.

School Teacher

early 20th century school teacher

Ethelene Reed

At the turn of the century, teaching was one of the only respectable fields open to educated women who wanted to work. Many unmarried women worked as teachers during the 1900s, and in the early days, they were often required to leave the profession once they were married. The 1920 census indicates that Lewis Reed’s wife, Ethelene (pictured above), was a teacher in the Maryland public school system until her daughter Mary Jane was born in 1922.

Ice Cutter

Ice harversting on pond in Darnestown with pitchforks

Men harvesting ice with pitchforks and hand saws on a pond in Darnestown, 1910. Note the blocks of ice stacked up along the shoreline.

Most people wouldn’t consider the months of January and February a season of harvest in Darnestown, Maryland. But in our not so distant past, this was harvest time for—ICE. Rivers, lakes and ponds are generally frozen and ice was harvested like a winter crop to keep food cold all summer long. Before modern refrigeration, ice for refrigeration was obtained organically through a process called “ice harvesting.” Ice cutters would risk their lives going out with saws, tongs, and pitchforks to methodically cut and drag blocks of ice from a nearby frozen pond. Those blocks would then be stored in hay-packed ice houses, later distributed throughout towns and cities during the heat of summer. However, people did not put ice in their drinks as we do now. The possibility of debris having been in the water as it froze – even a bug now and then – discouraged the idea.

Store Clerk/Cashier

Clerks at J. F. Collins General Store on East Montgomery Avenue in Rockville, 1914. At left is A. F. “Seen” Beane, who bought this store from Collins in the 1920s and continued doing business in downtown Rockville until his retirement in the 1960s.

The cash register was invented in the late 1800s, and by the 1900s almost every retail organization had one. Store owners sometimes conducted business with their customers, but the more lucrative establishments would hire one or more clerks as assistants to interact with the public. By 1915, more than half of all clerical workers tended to be young women.


1910 Chauffeur

Chauffeur Lewis Reed is tending to the motor, 1910

Chauffeur-mechanics of the early 1900s were the first group to earn a living working on automobiles. At the dawn of the early 20th century, society was transitioning from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. Having grown up in a blacksmith family, Lewis Reed was well positioned to move to the new technology. The 1910 census indicated that 23-year-old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist. Lewis Reed worked as a chauffeur from roughly 1910-1914, before he became involved in the business of selling and repairing automobiles.

Motorman and Conductors

Trolley motorman and conductor

Motorman and conductor on a Georgetown trolley car, ca. 1908

The debut of Rockville’s trolley cars in 1900 marked the beginning of a golden age of local mass transit. Each car had a two-man crew (a conductor and a motorman) one to operate the car and the other to collect fares.

Mill Worker

Early 20th Century Mill Worker

Two workers pose inside an unknown mill.

A mill is a building equipped with machinery that processes a raw material such as grain, wood, or fiber into a product such as flour, lumber, or fabric. In the 18th and 19th centuries, mills were powered by water in creeks or rivers. In a flour mill, water flowing over the mill wheel was converted by gears into the power to turn one of two burr stones. Kernels of wheat were then ground between the two stones. The grinding removed bran (the outer husk) from the wheat kernel, and then crushed the inner kernel into flour.* Flour mills were an important part of rural communities across the country, including Montgomery County, and millers were respected members of their community.


Agricultural steam tractor

An agricultural tractor powered by a steam engine, a design used extensively in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Thomas Kelley's Pumpkin Farm 1920

Thomas Kelley’s Pumpkin Field, early 1920

Above is a photograph of three men in suits pumpkin picking in Thomas Kelley’s field of pumpkins in Pleasant Hills, circa 1920. Tom Kelly farmed much of the land around the Pleasant Hills homestead and was famous for his “Kelly Corn” farm wagon of fresh dairy produce during the summer months, as well as the corn that fed visitors to the Montgomery County Fair each August and, of course, his pumpkin patch in the fall.The turn of the century was a time of transition, and the families who went from horses to tractor horsepower witnessed the birth of mechanization on the farm. The newest farm machinery to hit the market near the turn of the 20th century were traction engines powered by steam; essentially the predecessor to today’s modern farm tractor. They could plow, they could haul, and you could put a big belt on the fly wheel and drive a saw mill. The engines would normally run on coal, wood, or even straw: whatever would sustain a fire.

Francis Flack of Montrose on steam tractor with roof, 1909. Built by Geiser Manufacturing Company, makers of the Peerless line of steam tractors.

Steam helped improve the efficiency of most farm chores, including plowing, planting and harvesting. And steam-powered equipment also was used for other heavy duty tasks, including rock crushing and wood cutting, to aid in clearing the land. Francis A. Flack (1875-1961), a life-long resident of Montgomery County, was a successful farmer in the lower section of the county near Garrett Park. The work depicted below–sawing felled trees into usable lumber–took place on his farm in 1909. Flack is pictured in the lower left photo.

As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine:
I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels.

It was the steam traction engine that inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles. By the early 1930s, gasoline-powered farm equipment, evolved from the automobile industry, had mostly replaced steam powered machines.

Road Worker (Heavy Equipment Operator)

Building a road requires moving earth and rocks, leveling the roadbed and digging trenches for drainage ditches. These tasks fell to those who operated the large steam-powered excavating machines and steam shovels. Pictured above are rare, historical photographs that Lewis Reed took of the construction of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC as it was being graded in 1912. (click on thumbnails to view gallery)

A steam shovel is a large steam-powered excavating machine designed for lifting and moving large amounts of heavy material such as rock and soil. Steam shovels played a major role in public works in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When digging at a rock face, the operator simultaneously raises and extends the dipper stick to fill the bucket with material. When the bucket is full, the shovel is rotated to load the railway car. Steam shovels usually had a three-man crew: engineer, fireman and ground man.

Census Taker

Tabulating Machine Company

Two-story building that housed Hollerith’s card manufacturing plant, assembly plant, repair shop, and development laboratory, as it appeared in 1911.

The U.S. Census of 1900 reported about thirty Rockville residents employed by the federal government, with the majority working for the Post Office, War Department, or Census Bureau. Before becoming interested in automobiles, Lewis Reed was one of the original employees of the Hollerith Computing Tabulating Recording Company, a Georgetown-based manufacturing firm that eventually became International Business Machines, Inc. (IBM computers)

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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