Drywall stilts are a staple tool for hanging and finishing drywall and plaster, painting, and installing suspended ceilings. But while working stilts are now pretty much limited to the construction industry, it wasn’t long ago that workers in other fields relied on them, too.

Until the early 20th century, shepherds in the Landes region of southeastern France tended their flocks from 5-foot stilts, partly for an enhanced view and partly because their longer “legs” allowed them to move swiftly across the flat pastureland. When the Empress Josephine visited the area in 1808, she noted that stilt walkers easily kept up...

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