Mortician History

History of Funeral Services:

Funeral directing and funeral services are a time honored practice and vary widely between cultures. Because atheism was not prevalent in ancient times, cultures were predominately religious and believed in some form of life after death. The first funeral was dated all the way back to the Stone Age in 24,000 BC.  In ancient Egyptian times, the dead were mummified and their organs preserved using a complex embalming process. The Hindi’s often burned their dead and released the remains near a body of water.  The Greeks and Romans also had elaborate burial ceremonies, where the body was often cremated and placed in lofty tombs. Despite different procedures and traditions, the core principals of funeral services remain the same: to honor the dead and help their transition to the afterlife. The conductor of these majestic ceremonies is the priest, or in modern times the mortician, also known as the undertaker or funeral director.

American Funeral History

Funerals have been around since the start of the first settlers in America. Until the mid-1800s, American families often took care of their own dead and held private funerals. The funeral industry started to take off after the Civil War and really engaged full throttle in the middle of the twentieth century, where the business model was being outsourced to funeral homes with florists, casket manufacturers, insurance companies, cosmetic and automobile companies all involved. The industry became a business and was heavily criticized for its high costs, particularly the embalming process, and being a service reserved for the wealthy. Additional criticism came from the religious side where displaying a body in an open casket supposedly violated religious ideals.  There were also reports of fraudulent activity and corruption in funeral homes, where clients were extorted for additional charges. Today, the industry is highly regulated with protection laws against such actions.

Mortician Etymology

The modern word Mortician has an interesting history. In medieval times, an undertaker was associated with anyone who was “undertaking” a task, whether it was building a house, being a carpenter, or funeral services. By the 17th century, funeral undertakers were simply called undertakers. At some point in the late 19th early 20th century, the word undertaker became “mortician” an American term derived from the Latin root “mort” which means death. Eventually the universal term for professionals working in the funeral service industry became funeral director, most likely an euphemism for the harder sounding realities of the job.