In the 21st century, the challenge of choosing a career means finding an area involving skills and knowledge that will remain relevant — and won’t be taken over by robots as automation becomes ever more sophisticated.
What will last? Computer programmer, web developer, surgeon, Uber driver? Maybe there’s a lesson or two to be learned from jobs that used to exist, and then went the way of the dinosaurs.
In some cases, we’re old enough to remember jobs that have largely disappeared — the milkman, anyone? — but other professions are so long gone they are hardly remembered. Here’s a look at some examples of both types of occupations of yore.
The chandler had a job that has gone out of style. These workers made and sold candles to be used for lighting.
Sometimes, it seems a shame such a quaint occupation no longer exists. Then we remember how much we like electricity.
On the other hand, if you’re nostalgic and a DIYer, there’s a niche market for homemade goods, including candles, and you may be able to capitalize on your craft through online marketplaces. See “4 Ways Creative People Can Make Money Online.”
2. Factory lector
Modern bibliophiles, you were born too late for your true calling. A lector was someone hired by factories to read books and newspapers to workers who were often stuck in one place all day doing repetitive tasks. Now, we get to listen to the zany morning radio show or our favorite podcast instead.
3. Bobbin boy
As the name suggests, these workers were boys who served as runners for the women hired to work looms in textile mills. They would bring empty bobbins to the workers and then collect them once they were full of spun thread.
Even if we didn’t have technology to replace the work of bobbin boys, modern child labor laws would mean this occupation is a no-go nowadays.
4. Book peddler
Anyone who can remember the door-to-door salesmen who came hawking encyclopedias knows this occupation was still in existence until recently. As their name suggests, book peddlers and canvassers crisscrossed the country selling reading material at a time when bookstores were more of a city experience.
While plenty of us still love books, we’re more likely to get our reading material online or from the library than wait for someone to knock on our door with a box full of titles to browse. We even have access to plenty of books for free these days — see “11 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.”
Coopers were relied upon to make wooden barrels and casks. Plastic and metal containers have largely replaced the need for waterproof wooden barrels.
“The stainless steel beer drum is putting coopers out of business,” the CBC reported in 2009. At that time, there were thought to be only a few coopers still working with British brewers.
Speaking of books, fans of “The Wind in the Willows” could tell you the importance of washerwomen. When not providing disguises to toads trying to break out of prison, these workers kept your laundry clean.
Today, you could argue we still have washerwomen in the form of laundry services. However, machines have replaced the elbow grease that was required to clean clothes in days past, and men can enjoy the chore as well.
7. Breaker boy
Like the bobbin boy, this is a job that would never fly today even if it were still needed. Breaker boys were young coal mining workers — with most being 10 to 14 years old — who separated impurities from the ore by hand.
8. Town crier
“The British are coming! The British are coming!”
OK, so Paul Revere was actually a silversmith, albeit one with patriotic pursuits that led him to shout that alarm, but there once were people whose job it was to make public announcements every day in the street. Now, with social media, everyone has a platform to make public announcements.
9. Switchboard operator
Who remembers calling the operator on a telephone to be connected to another number? Switchboard operators used to be a critical part of talking to friends and family after phone lines were first strung across the country. However, technology has made their role obsolete.
While there are telephone operators today, they don’t manually connect lines on a switchboard as was done in the past.
10. Gandy dancer
Such a fun name, but, alas, you can’t get this job anymore. These early railroad workers laid down tracks, driving spikes in by hand with tools manufactured by the Gandy Tool Co.
“It was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process and often a refined area for many railroad workers — historically known as ‘gandy dancers,'” The Washington Post reports.
These workers were replaced by machines that use hydraulic pressure to drive spikes.
Another job that has disappeared is that of the milkman. Sure, a handful of small businesses may want to try to revive the lost practice of home delivery of milk, but let’s be real. Most of us get our milk in plastic jugs at the grocery store, not left on our doorstep in glass bottles.
12. Lady’s maid
Any fan of “Downton Abbey” can tell you finding a good lady’s maid is a bit tricky. These workers needed to be both discreet and dedicated. As a noblewoman’s trusted assistant, the lady’s maid would care for clothing and other possessions as well as help m’lady with dressing and other needs.
Although some households may still employ the modern equivalent of a lady’s maid, the occupation as it was previously known has all but disappeared.
Watch the 1962 film version of the Broadway musical “The Music Man,” and you might just see a lamplighter in the background. In the pre-electricity days of yore, the lamplighter was responsible for lighting candle, oil or gas street lights in the evening and extinguishing them in the morning.
14. Street sweeper
Modern cities hire workers to clean up litter, but most use machines to actually sweep up the streets and gutters. However, that wasn’t always the case. Long ago, boys and men were often employed to do this work and sweep streets by hand.
15. Elevator operator
OK, maybe in some swanky buildings, you still might find an elevator operator adding to the ambiance. However, the operators of the past were actually needed. That was back when getting to your floor was a little more involved than simply pushing a button: Operators were responsible for manually opening and closing the doors and setting the speed and direction of the elevator.
16. Knocker upper
Now, isn’t this a fun-sounding occupation? These workers went around knocking on windows and doors in the morning to wake up folks, such as shift workers in mill towns. They usually carried long sticks that could reach an upstairs window or used such methods as rattles or pea shooters.
The occupation started dying out in the 1940s and 1950s, as electricity became more widespread and alarm clocks became more affordable, the BBC reports.
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