The advancement of technology, and the changes in our society, have made a number of jobs obsolete. Automation has made it possible for machines to do the jobs humans once did – and do them faster. As a result, it's little surprise that some jobs are in decline and others have disappeared altogether. Here are 20 jobs that have disappeared over the decades.
In New York City and Florida, cigar makers often became bored. They hired lectors to read to them while they worked. Lectors could read just about any material requested, and were paid using pooled wages of the workers. Lectors were placed in a chair on a raised platform so that most of the workers could hear.
Errand runners used to take paper from desk to desk in newspaper offices around the country. When reports came out of teletype machines from the news wire services, copy boys would take the mimeographed information, sort it and then deliver it. Then, when a story was done, the copy boys could collect the article and take it to an editor. Now it’s all done via document sharing and e-mail.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the easiest way to move logs over long distances was to send them down the river. Log drivers were needed to guide the logs down river. Men moved ahead of the logs to remove obstructions, while others remained behind to free stuck logs. Because they did such dangerous work, log drivers were paid a much higher salary than those that cut down the trees.
Before electric lights were standard, streets were lit by gas lamps. As you might imagine, someone was needed to manually light these lamps. Lamplighters used long ladders to reach the lamps, and then used matches to light the lamps. With electric street lights illuminating the night, lamplighters are obsolete.
When you go bowling, a machine comes down and clears away the fallen pins, and sets up new pins. Before technology made automation possible, though, boys and girls did this job. While these pinsetters were often teenagers, sometimes they were much younger. Now, there is no need to have someone set up the pins, although the manager may need to go behind if the machine gets stuck.
All the way through the 1980s, switchboard operators were used to some capacity. All calls had to be routed through switchboards in the early days of phones. In the 1980s, switchboard operators were mainly used for long-distance calling, and to take down phone numbers if all the circuits were busy. Now, nearly all calling is digitized—even your callback if the line is busy (rare with call waiting) is automated.
This job is even more obsolete than a switchboard operator. The operator used Morse code or some other code system to send messages. The operator was also required to interpret the messages he or she received. Telegraph operators played large roles in World War I and World War II.
In order to keep food properly cold, an icebox used to be required. And for an icebox, you needed ice. However, you couldn’t just find it at any store. Instead, it was cut from frozen lakes and rivers. Before refrigeration, ice was cut by men who worked hard to get it out of the frozen north. Then the ice was delivered around the country.
After being cut out of lakes and rivers, and stored in icehouses, ice was then delivered to homes. Ice production in factores later on still required deliveries to homes. Only the widespread use of refrigerators ended the need for ice delivery, since people could keep their food cold without ice.
Company executives and other important people often dictated memos, letters and other documents using a Dictaphone. A Dictaphone operator would listen through headphones and type what he or she heard. Dictaphones are no longer needed, with more convenient digital recorders. There are even some programs that transcribe automatically, without the need for someone to type.
Typing used to be a very female occupation. Large numbers of them often did the typing for a number of organizations. They sat in what were known as typing pools, and created documents of all types. The way to get a promotion was to distinguish oneself in the typing pool, and perhaps be offered the chance to be a secretary.
Individual pieces of type used to have to be placed in printing presses in order to create newspaper pages and other documents on a mass scale. Now, of course, computers do the work of layout for newspapers, automating the process so that it is done more quickly, and arguably more accurately.
It used to be that elevators needed someone to manually operate them, often using levers to help keep things moving as efficiently as possible, and to properly land the elevator cab on the correct floor. Even after buttons were created to help, an operator was still required, since the buttons didn’t allow for extra stops. Now, of course, push button operation makes this job unnecessary.
It used to be that the process of creating mimeographs was sometimes given to an operator. This allowed copies to made while the person requesting them accomplished other tasks. Now, though, mimeographs have been replaced by all sorts of digital machines, and the simple push of a button from a computer can get someone all the copies he or she needs.
Before those huge trucks we think of as street cleaners were invented, street sweepers were needed to help clear debris off streets. Street sweepers used brooms to manually sweep streets in parts of town that were considered more desirable. No, of course, large brushes attached to tracks do that job.
This isn’t a reference to sleep or death. Sand used to be used to help dry the ink on letters. A dusting of fine sand could be used to keep the ink from blotting, drying it quickly. However, the finest sand for this job couldn’t just be taken from the garden. A man actually sold it door to door. Now, ballpoint pens are used when one writes a letter at all. More often, an email is sent. No need for the sandman.
When building a house, it was necessary to obtain wood. This was true of building furniture, fencing, barrows and wagons. If you need wood, you could go to a sawyer. These men worked over pits, sawing wood as it was needed. However, thanks to electric saws and machines that can pre-cut wood to different lengths, all you need to do is head to the home improvement store—and sawyers are out of jobs.
Manual Part Loading
It used to be that workers were needed to man the assembly lines at car manufacturers. Manual part loading was the job when cars were assembled in large part by hand. Each worker loaded one particular part into the car. Now, though, robotic arms do most of the work when it comes to part loading.
Back in the day when coal mining was relatively new and widespread—and less automated—there was the need for sorters to go through and get rid of the debris that wasn’t coal. Additionally, it was necessary for the coal to be broken down into usable sizes. The job was often done by boys. With child labor laws being enacted, and with increased automation, this job became extinct.
Rag and Bone Man
Before automotive transport and organized garbage collection made it easier to throw things out, rag and bone men went through the streets with a barrow or a horse drawn cart and collected junk from householders. Rags were collected for paper and fabric making, and bones were collected for glue. Rag and bone men would also collect iron scraps and even other unwanted items.
The Endangered List
Other jobs are rapidly disappearing as well. Here are a few more jobs that you probably won’t see much of anymore:
- Bon-bon dipper
- Check writer
- Finger cobbler
- Clock hand inspector
- Sea sponge harvester
- Globe mounter
If you are doing any of these, it’s time to find a new career!