By, Pam Teel
As technology advances and processes become automated, some people that once held jobs that were considered essential, suddenly found themselves seeking another profession.
By 2030, about 800 million jobs could disappear due to automation, and in the United States alone, 39 million to 73 million jobs could become automated. You can already see it happening in stores where they have self-checkout machines and restaurants and businesses where you can order online, cutting out the need for human interaction.
According to Stacker, a news media company, here’s a list of some jobs that are no longer hiring:
Town Crier- In medieval England, the town crier would inform the townspeople of the latest news, proclamations, and other information, as most people were illiterate and were not able to read the news. After the town crier would read his message, he would post a notice on the door of a local inn—which is why some newspapers are referred to today as “The Post.”
Food Taster- The practice of employing people to taste the food for a member of a royal family or an important figure to ensure that the food wasn’t poisoned dates back to ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. Several chemicals can be used to poison people, but only cyanide can kill a person within minutes. Other poisons take time to show effects, and most royals weren’t keen on waiting days to eat a meal just to see if the food taster would end up ill.
Bematist- Bematists were people trained in ancient Greece to measure their steps to calculate distances. The bematists would often publish their findings in monographs called Stathmoi, which published distances as well as reports of natural findings and empirical customs.
Nomenclator- In ancient Rome, a nomenclator would be hired to announce the names of guests or people to their master. Roman politicians, especially, took up the practice of employing nomenclators and would have them whisper the names of people as they approached during a political rally to make the politician appear personable and knowledgeable.
Tosher- During the Victorian era in London, people called toshers would make a living by breaking into the city’s sewage system and searching for coins, scraps of metal, pieces of bone, or anything else they could find that was of value. Toshers earned what is today about $50, which put them at the same level as the working class. Entering sewers became illegal in 1840, and people who caught others breaking this law were offered a reward, which discouraged the sewer-diving.
Moirologist- In ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean cultures, moirologists, or professional mourners, were women who were hired by families to grieve the loss of relatives and lament the death of a loved ones. The moirologist would also guard the body before it was buried and instruct mourners throughout the grieving process.
Castrato- When women were banned from performing in the theater in the 16th century, young boys would undergo castration before puberty to create an adult voice that was more powerful and could reach much higher notes. The “castrati” were all the rage and extremely popular in Italian opera and often reached celebrity status. However, the practice was both illegal and inhumane, and thankfully died out.
Linkboy- In 17th century London, before streetlights were commonplace, young boys looking to make money would be hired at night to light torches and walk people home from taverns or other places. Sometimes, linkboys would lead patrons into dark alleys where robbers would be waiting in the shadows.
Sea Sponge Harvester- Men in Greece’s Kalymnos Island made a living for hundreds of years as sea sponge harvesters, which was a profession reserved only for physically fit and fearless people who were up to the challenge. Beginning in the 1800s, men would fasten a heavy piece of marble to themselves and dive up to 30 meters. When the water became too cold after summer ended, the sea sponge harvesters would return home, much to the relief of their friends and family. Sea sponges harvested today are still found by trained divers using specially designed cutting hooks or knives. They leave enough of the base of the sponge for it to quickly regenerate. Once cut, the divers gently squeeze the gurry out of the sponge and take them back to the boats.
Brewess- Ancient civilizations credit the invention of beer to women, and in Europe during the 1700s, licensed female brewers were the norm. There were even laws that mandated that brewing tools were the sole property of women. However, during the industrial revolution, brewing was moved out of the home and into the marketplace, and brewesses were phased out.
Broomsquire- Broomsquires, a profession that was common before the 1800s, were artisans that made and sold brooms. The broomsquires were often poor and lived in rural areas, where they would collect birch twigs to produce brooms. People with this profession were often looked down upon and were relegated to the same class as gypsies.
Scribe- Before printing was invented, scribes would copy manuscripts and other documents word for word, and they were common in the medieval period around 1350. In Judaism, a scribe was originally called a “sofer” and was tasked with copying the Bible from the fifth century BCE to the first century CE. Eventually, the printing press was invented, and this tedious job became obsolete.
Rat Catcher- In London starting in the Victorian era, the city was infested with rats, which were known by then as carriers of disease. To solve the problem, many young people, including children, became rat catchers, and preferred this job to chimney sweeping or working in coal mines. Rats were either captured alive and sold as house pets or poisoned in an effort to eradicate them from the streets.
Plague Doctor- In the 14th century as the bubonic plague took hold and rapidly spread, plague doctors were hired by villages to treat infected people. The plague doctors invented masks to protect themselves from the “contagious air,” and many carried a wooden cane so they could examine patients without touching them. These doctors would usually attempt to treat the plague through bloodletting or having the patient drink a juice with rose hips.
Water Carrier- In India beginning in the 1600s, water carriers or bhishtis would collect drinking water and carry it back to a village, providing fresh water to families and individuals. However, as pipe systems evolved and became more commonplace, the profession was no longer necessary and became obsolete.
Herb Strewer- In the 16th and 17th centuries, royal families would employ an herb strewer whose job would be to cover up odors both outdoors and indoors using fresh herbs. However, when sewage systems and plumbing became more advanced and controlled and perfumes were invented, the job was no longer needed.
Toad Doctor- Starting in the 1600s, doctors and medical researchers believed that toads had healing properties, and they started to use toads in the practice of medicine. Toad doctors would practice a medicinal folk magic in western England until the end of the 19th century, using dried and powdered toads to soothe inflammation as well as relieve headaches and a skin condition known today as scrofula.
Drysalter- In Great Britain in the 1700s, a drysalter was a dealer that would provide chemical products—such as dyes and dry chemicals—in dried, tinned, salted foods, or edible oils. These products would be used for dyeing clothes or preserving food. Some drysalters also traded hemp, flax, logwood, and potash.
Leech Collector- In the mid-1800s when medical professionals believed that bloodletting could cure an illness or disease, leech collectors were responsible for retrieving the blood-sucking insects from their natural habitat for doctors to use. People with this job would use the legs of animals, or even their own legs, to attract leeches from rivers and creeks. Eventually, medical research advanced, and this profession became obsolete.
Linotype Operator- Long before the age of digital printing, linotype operators were responsible for arranging the hot-metal type on presses to publish printed newspapers. In the 1960s, faster phototypesetting, which required less-skilled workers, rapidly rendered linotype obsolete. Nowadays, the decline of print means all typesetting jobs are moving toward extinction.
Knockerupper- Before there was the alarm clock, there was a human alarm clock. People would hire “knocker uppers” to tap on the glass of their window with a long pole or shoot peas at the glass to wake them up. The job eventually fell to the wayside when the mechanical alarm clock was invented in 1847.
Gandy Dancer- Gandy dancers were railroad employees who would perform any task related to the railroad track, including laying, spreading, replacing rail, hammering spikes, and setting ties. Gandy dancers were an integral part of railroad maintenance from the time the railroad industry started in the 1820s. Many immigrants or former slaves were employed as gandy dancers, and the job drew tens of thousands of people looking for work.
Resurrectionist- As modern medical science grew into a true profession in the 18th century, so too did demand-for corpses. Medical students and practicing anatomists needed bodies to dissect to learn the inner workings of the human body. Resurrectionists were all too happy to oblige, digging up freshly buried bodies and delivering them, for a fee of course, to medical colleges and doctors’ offices.
Phrenologist- Beginning in the 1820s, phrenology came about as a study of the brain based on the shape and size of a person’s head. Phrenologists would examine the protuberances on a skull and diagnose people with different personality traits. They would tell clients which career paths were favorable for a person based on their head shape and traits they should look for in a love interest. However, this practice became widely discredited and the job of a phrenologist became obsolete.
Lamplighter- Before lightbulbs and electric streetlights, lamplighters would go around town lighting and extinguishing gas-burning streetlamps. When electric light bulbs were invented and used in place of gas lamps, lamplighters became jobless.
Mud Clerk- Mud clerks were apprentices on steamboats and were in charge of making bank landings when steamboats would get stuck in the mud. The profession was common during the American Civil War period. Mud clerks would also be charged with all-around menial tasks to upkeep steamboats.
Baked Potato Seller- In London in the mid-1800s, baked potato sellers were a common sight on the streets. While most were purchased for consumption, baked potatoes were sometimes purchased to warm cold hands during harsh city winters. In the summer, many baked potato sellers would switch to selling raspberries or strawberries.
Daguerreotypist- A daguerreotypist was essentially a photographer, and they used the process of the daguerreotype to print a unique image on a silvered copper plate. Because daguerreotypes were incredibly expensive, only the wealthiest people could afford to pay for a portrait when daguerreotypes were popular from about 1839 to 1860. The daguerreotype would be printed on a heavy, mirror-like material and would be presented in a special case that preserved the metal plate. As technology developed, the process became outdated and too expensive.
Scissors Grinder- Scissors grinders would sharpen scissors, knives, or other tools using an abrasive wheel, and would often go door to door performing the service. The practice became obsolete by the 1970s because most people found it easier and cheaper to buy new tools instead of sharpening their old ones. Today, some people refer to cicadas as scissors grinders because of the similar sound they produce.
Deer Culler- In the 1930s, the government was concerned about the sharp rise in the deer population and hired professional deer cullers to hunt the deer and slow their spread. Government-funded culling went to the wayside in the 1970s with the rise of commercial hunting.
Ice Cutter- When reliable refrigeration and freezing didn’t yet exist, ice cutters were tasked with cutting up the ice on frozen lakes. To do this, they would score the ice and then use a horse-powered device to cut the ice block free. However, this was a dangerous job—not only did it come with biting weather that cultivated frostbite, ice cutters and their horses also faced the danger of falling into the bone-chilling waters. Thankfully, mechanical refrigeration came about in the 1930s, and this job became obsolete.
Cigarette Girl- Cigarette or cigar girls worked at bars and clubs beginning in the 1920s. They would usually sport a pillbox hat and a tray around their neck with a selection of cigarettes for patrons to purchase. The cigarette girl became a popular cultural icon, and by the 1950s, cigarette girls could also be found at sporting events. However, as Americans’ attitudes toward smoking changed, she became a thing of the past.
Breaker Boy- A breaker boy was a young coal miner who was tasked with separating impurities from coal. The breaker boys were often as young as 5 years old and would work up to 10 hours a day and six days a week. The work was extremely dangerous, and many children lost fingers or limbs in factory machinery. A member of the National Child Labor Committee took photographs of breaker boys, which prompted the public to demand that labor laws be reformed.
Soda Jerk- Beginning in the 1940s, half of a million people were employed as soda jerks. They would wear white coats and be responsible for maintaining the popular soda fountains and dispensing glasses of soda from a spigot behind a counter. They were also tasked with remembering orders and making complicated milkshakes and egg creams.
Billy Boy- Billy boys were young men charged with making tea for men working at building sites, blacksmiths, and railway yards. During break times, the billy boys—who were considered apprentices—would light a fire and boil water in “billy cans” to make tea. Billy boys often also performed other odd jobs like delivering messages or running errands.
Physiognomist- In the early 1900s, physiognomy was a popular theory that was based on the idea that you could discern a person’s personality or character from their physical appearance. Physiognomists based their principles on racist ideals, believing that traditional features of Western Europeans represented sincerity and features associated with other races and ethnicities, such as hooked noses and almond eyes, represented deceit.
Pinsetter- In the early 1900s, young men were hired as pinsetters in bowling alleys to reset the bowling pins after they had been knocked down by bowling balls. After a bowler would take a turn, the pinsetter would jump into a pit, clear the downed pins, and roll the ball back to the bowler. After the second turn, the pinsetter would quickly gather the pins and realign them. By the early 1950s, the automatic pinsetter had found its way into bowling alleys, rendering the pinsetters unnecessary.
Elevator Operator- Elevator operators would greet guests and shuffle patrons from floor to floor, but they have gone extinct as people are now choosing to press their own elevator buttons. However, elevator operators in their heyday would be in charge of manually opening and closing elevator doors, controlling the speed of the car, and announcing what businesses were situated on each floor as the car approached. By the 1970s, many elevator operators had been let go.
Gong Farmer- Until the end of the 19th century, gong farmers would be hired to dig out all the feces from a house’s privy and bring it to a dump to be repurposed as fertilizer or building materials. Gong farmers could only work at night, faced the prospect of diseases, and were sometimes required to live far away from the rest of a village or town.
Mursmäcka- A Mursmäcka was a profession in Sweden reserved for women who would hand over mortar during construction work. It was a common job for poor and uneducated Swedish women during the 19th century, especially in places like Stockholm. The job was discontinued in 1922.
Switchboard Operator- The earliest telephones were extremely difficult to use, so telephone companies hired switchboard operators to assist with connecting customers. The job became an almost exclusively female one by the 1880s because women were considered to be more polite. Women saw the job as a step up from factory and domestic work. In 1919, switchboard operators in New England went on strike and earned a wage increase as a result.
Crossing Sweeper- In the 19th century when streets were frequently dirty, littered, and filled with sewage, people would hire crossing sweepers to sweep a path ahead of pedestrians as they walked down the street. Wealthy citizens would readily pay sweepers to protect their long skirts or articles of clothing and to prevent contact with manure. A crossing sweeper was considered one step above a beggar. Many people took up the profession because starting the business would cost nothing more than a broom.
Lector- While people today might listen to podcasts or radio on the job, people working in the early 1900s factories had to devise another source of entertainment. Factories would hire lectors to read aloud newspapers or books on-site to keep workers entertained. The lector would usually sit or stand on an elevated surface to perform so that the entire factory would be able to hear. Lectors who read material deemed too radical were fired.
Hush Shopkeeper- During Prohibition in the United States, when it was illegal to sell, buy, or consume alcohol, hush shopkeepers would sell alcohol under the table to people they trusted. They received their name because they had to keep their private business “hush.” Eventually, when Prohibition ended, hush shopkeepers were no longer needed.
Alchemist- In ancient eras, alchemists would try to turn chemicals or other substances into gold. Alchemists were also considered “wizards” because they frequently tried to concoct special elixirs to cure sickness and grant immortality. Today, some people consider alchemists to have been early chemists because of their work with base metals and other chemicals.
Human Computers- Human computers at NASA and other organizations would be in charge of making calculations to determine, for example, how many rockets it would take to make a plane airborne. The calculations took place on graph paper and could sometimes take up to a week. Eventually, the job became an almost-exclusively female profession. In 1942, Macie Roberts made the decision to hire only female computers because she believed male computers would undermine the group.
Caddy Butcher- A caddy butcher specialized in preparing and selling horse meat, which was popular in both the United Kingdom and the United States until the 1940s. The meat was relatively cheap and was considered an alternative to beef or venison. However, eating horse meat became taboo, and the practice died out.
Telegram Messenger- In the second half of the 19th century, telegram messengers were an essential component of communication. In the United Kingdom, after the General Post Office took control of inland telegrams in 1870, telegram boys became emblematic of the next era of communication. In 1913, around 82 million telegrams were sent in the U.K., and most were delivered by telegram messengers on bicycles. After 1946, however, telephones and other communication innovations steadily replaced telegrams.
Telephone Operator- In the early to mid-20th century, if you wanted to get in touch with someone on the phone, switchboard operator was the person to help you do it. Switchboard operators were essential whenever you wanted to make a call, connecting one caller through the central office to the party they were trying to reach via a network of manual plugs. While this profession may seem antiquated, switchboard operators were in use well into the 1960s.
VCR repairman- If you grew up in the latter part of the 20th century, you probably remember the pain of getting your favorite videotape stuck in your VCR. Enter: the VCR repairman, who could save that Fraggle Rock video and your VCR in the process. But with the rise of DVDs and streaming services, you’d be hard-pressed to find a VCR tech today.
Dictaphone Operator- Today, we have tiny devices in our homes that can write our grocery lists for us if we do no more than ask them to. However, from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, dictation was handled by Dictaphone operators.
Log Drivers-While navigating around an 18-wheeler carrying timber on the highway may be a pain, those trucks are a major improvement over the logging industry’s previous practices. Case in point: until the 1970s, log driving was one of the preferred methods of moving lumber from place to place, with men riding logs down river as a means of getting them to mills. Unfortunately, the practice was extremely dangerous, with countless log drivers losing their lives on the job.
Radio Actor- Today, we listen to podcasts. Throughout the 20th century, however, millions tuned into radio dramas, catching their favorite actors play out the serials that were so popular at the time. And while some radio enthusiasts are trying to bring the format back, the number of actors who can make a living in this line of work today is likely zero.
Typesetter- Before the printing industry was digitized, all those stories had to be hand-set by a typesetter before going to print.
Clock Winder- Before the invention of electric clock winders, the job was frequently done manually by a dedicated clock winder. While this job has all but been eliminated, there’s one notable exception: just five years ago, Big Ben was hiring a clock winder.
Film Projectionist- As most movie theaters switch to digital projectors, the role of the film projectionist is largely obsolete. While some projectionists’ roles within the movie theater have changed to include programming and management, you’d likely have trouble finding anyone who’s still professionally projecting 35mm film today.
Computer- Today, a laptop computer can weigh as little as a hardback book. However, throughout the 20th century, it took an entire human being—or sometimes a team of them—to generate the power in one of these tiny machines many of us take for granted today.
Can you think of any other obsolete jobs that no longer exist?