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 (milkman, anyone?), but other professions are so long gone they are hardly remembered. MyHeritage, a family history and DNA company, combed through its billions of records to identify some jobs that no longer exist.
Here’s a look at those plus a few others we found:
1. Ice cutter
Also known as an iceman (or woman), these workers would cut and fish out big chunks of ice from lakes or other bodies of water and then store them in an ice house. During the summer months, they might make deliveries or sell ice off a wagon.
Today we don’t have icemen, we have ice makers … and freezers.
Despite the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution, there are still plenty of careers involving manual labor today. Check out: “How Much Construction Workers Are Paid in Every State.”
2. Town crier
“The British are coming! The British are coming!”
OK, so Paul Revere was actually a silversmith, albeit one with patriotic pursuits, 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, but making a living from it is a challenge. If you think you have things the public needs to know, consider: “11 Keys to a Successful Freelance Career.”
If you were a butcher or a seamstress at the turn of the 20th century, the scissors-grinder might have been your best friend. These workers would use a stone grinding wheel to sharpen blades.
Now, we can sharpen our own knives at home or, in the case of cheap scissors, easily replace them once they’re dull.
Until the early 20th century, coopers were relied upon to make wooden casks, barrels and tubs. Plastic and metal containers have largely replaced the need for waterproof wooden barrels, but there are still some coopers out there. However, rather than making their wares by hand, most use machines instead.
MyHeritage says hacklers, also known as hemp dressers, were responsible for separating out the coarse part of flax or hemp plants, so the fibers could be used to make linen and related textiles. They used a tool called a hackle; hence the name hackler.
6. Bobbin boy
Another obsolete textile job was that of the bobbin boy. As the name suggests, these workers were boys who served as runners for women working looms in 18th and 19th century textile mills. They would bring empty bobbins to the women 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.
The chandler had another job that has since 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: “Get Crafty: 7 Steps Anyone Can Use to Make Money Online.”
8. 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, from the library or via Amazon than wait for someone to knock on our door with a box full of titles to browse.
Check out: “11 Places to Find Free E-Books.”
9. Breaker boy
Like the bobbin boy, this is a job that would never fly today even if it were still needed. Breaker boys were kids who worked in coal mining operations to separate impurities from the ore by hand.
10. Advertisement conveyancer
Long before businesses could buy banner ads on the internet or put up a commercial on cable TV, they would hire workers to wear sandwich boards advertising their wares or services. You might still see some people hired to wear sandwich board nowadays, but those job opportunities are few and far between.
Fortunately, there a dozens of new side gigs and tricks that can help you supplement your income. Check out: “107 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money Every Month.”
11. Gandy dancer
Such a fun name, but, alas, you can’t get this job anymore. Known as “navvys” in England, these early railroad workers laid down tracks and maintained them. MyHeritage reports that “gandy dancer” was a nickname that came about because of the apparently dance-like movements of the workers.
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.
13. 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.
MyHeritage says switchboard operators date back to 1878 and sang their swan song in the 1960s. While there are telephone operators today, they don’t manually connect lines on a switchboard as was done in the past.
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.
Now, isn’t this a fun sounding occupation? According to MyHeritage, these workers were usually older men and women who went around knocking on windows and doors in the morning to wake people up. Apparently, this used to be a thing until about the 1920s.
16. Factory lector
Modern bibliophiles, you were born too late for your true calling. A lector was hired at 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 instead.
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.
18. Street sweeper
Modern cities hire workers to clean up litter, but most use motorized 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.
19. Elevator operator
OK, maybe in some swanky buildings, you still might find an elevator operator who adds to the ambiance. However, the operators who worked in the past were actually needed. That was back when getting to your floor was a little more involved than simply pushing a button, and operators were responsible for opening doors and setting the speed and direction of the elevator.
Thanks to modern technology, we can operate elevators by ourselves now, making this occupation more ornamental than practical.
One final 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.
Besides, the government Bureau of Labor Statistics no longer tracks employment data specifically for milkmen. That means, like the other occupations on this list, we can say the job no longer officially exists.
Do you have memories of jobs that no longer exist? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.