Old Professions That No Longer Exist In Today’s World

Ashley - March 29, 2023

Before technology exploded and everyone began carrying a computer in their pocket, life was very different. Have you ever wondered what people used to do for work? There are a ton of old professions that no longer exist in today’s world. Many of these jobs were phased out as machines replaced human labor and technology replaced the need for complex systems. Are you ready to experience a blast from the past? Check out these odd jobs that don’t exist today!

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Back in the day, milkmen were an integral part of society. It was a coveted profession that offered steady work, decent pay, and good standing in the community. Milkmen would deliver bottles of fresh milk to homes in the community, and they occasionally delivered other kitchen staples, like butter or eggs. As refrigeration became more common, this job became defunct. The children who grew up in the 50s with dreams of becoming milkmen must have been disappointed when this profession disappeared!

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Did you know that rats used to be used for entertainment in pubs? This was common practice during the Victorian Era, and the men who were tasked with catching the rats were referred to as Ratteners. While this practice may sound disgusting, it actually came in handy during the Black Plague. Men were already trained in catching the rodents that carried the disease, so communities could prevent the species from reproducing too quickly and, therefore, spreading the nasty disease.

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Elevator Operators

It’s a little crazy to think about now, but there was a time before automatic elevators. Elevator operators were responsible for a lot, including controlling the doors opening and closing, the direction and speed, and the capacity of the elevator. Just like milkmen, this profession disappeared after the 50s once automatic elevators became more commonplace. Now we just press the button of the floor we want to go to, and we’re off!

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This is another profession guaranteed to give you pause. Have you ever thought about how people stored their food before refrigerators were invented? Well, many homes relied on ice-men to deliver them blocks of ice! The job of ice-men was to cut up and transport large blocks of ice. It was a dangerous and physically demanding job that became obsolete with the invention of refrigeration units.

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Before you get too confused, let us explain. We don’t mean hackers in the context people use that word today. Back before computers and the fear of massive information leaks, hackers were woodcutters. These men would cut up chunks of wood to be used for buildings and other purposes. Their profession was axed due to the advent of other technologies.

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Gong Farmer

This is a job we’re very glad to say no longer exists! Gong farmers were tasked with digging human waste out of privies and cesspits. Since this job was considered so unclean, these men were only allowed to work at night. They would then need to transport the waste out of city limits and dispose of it. This job disappeared when more modern plumbing became the norm, and new technology was invented to deal with waste.

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Linotype Operators

Can you image a time when you couldn’t simply type what you wanted and backspace when you needed? It sounds like it would be incredibly detailed and monotonous work to be a linotype operator, but these men were crucial to the free press. These men operated linotypes, hot metal typesetting systems, to produce daily newspapers in the late 1800s. Once phototypesetting was invented in the 1960s, linotype operators were no longer needed.

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Professional Pin Setters

Bowling has been a favored pastime for ages. In fact, the earliest example of bowling dates all the way back to 5200 BC in Ancient Egypt! In more modern times, before technology replaced the position, professional pin setters were needed to reorganize the pins after each bowl. It sounds like a simple job, but these men needed to work around the clock to keep things organized!

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Gandy Dancers

Despite what the name implies, Gandy Dancers had nothing to do with dancing or entertainment. It was actually a slang term for railroad workers who maintained railroad tracks. Eventually, like many of the professions on this list, this job became defunct when technology was invented to replace human workers. However, you can still find some Gandy Dancers working at major railroads around the world!

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Chimney Sweepers

Most people will recognize this profession, especially if you’ve ever seen the movie Mary Poppins. Chimney sweepers are still prevalent in certain parts of the world, but this profession is a thing of the past in most regions. Over a hundred years ago, during and after the Industrial Revolution, hiring chimney sweepers was necessary for most homeowners. People of all ages joined this profession to maintain chimneys, but these workers were phased out when electric stoves and other gas appliances were introduced.

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No, we’re not talking about the type of computers that exist today. Before calculators and similar technology were invented, society needed people who could crunch numbers all day long. Many women joined this profession and spent their days calculating numbers on large chalkboards. Eventually, this profession was no longer needed, but it gave many women a reliable entry into the workforce back in the day!

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Billy Boy

Workers couldn’t just pop down to their local cafe for a hot beverage during break times, so they relied on Billy Boys instead. Billy Boys worked mostly on construction sites, railroads, and blacksmith sites. These young boys typically worked under an apprentice to learn the fine art of making and serving tea to other workers. Eventually, this job faded away, but it was a coveted role for many years.

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Switchboard Operators

Switchboard operators need to have excellent communication and multitasking skills to succeed in their profession. Women were the predominant workers in this role, and it was their job to facilitate long-distance calls and direct communications before new technology made their position obsolete. Automated systems eventually phased out this position, and now we can’t even imagine having to talk to a human just to get through on a call!

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Similar to today’s transcriptionist profession, typists used to spend their days typing up important documents. Of course, the difference between today’s profession and the one shown in this image is the technology used. Back then, typists worked with typewriters. Becoming proficient with a typewriter could take years, as you needed to be quick and accurate because there were no backspace buttons! Many women were hired as typists during the height of this profession.

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Can you imagine how monotonous this job must have been? Clockwinders spent all day doing exactly as their title suggests- winding clocks. This was a highly sought-after job back in those days because it came with relatively few risks and paid well. As with many professions on this list, clockwinders became defunct after the Industrial Revolution. Technology was invented to replace human labor and sent this profession straight to the unneeded pile.

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Much like milkmen, egglers were an integral part of the inner workings of communities back in the day. Egglers brought fresh batches of eggs to sell at local markets. This job became very popular, and many egglers began selling other needed household goods. While this profession isn’t as popular as it used to be, it’s not been completely eliminated. Many farmers still bring their eggs to local markets to sell, but they don’t call themselves egglers anymore!

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Have you ever wondered how people woke up on time for work before the invention of alarm clocks? Well, there was an entire profession dedicated to waking up workers when it was time to start their day. These people were known as knocker-uppers. They would go around residential areas and use long sticks to knock on the windows of workers to wake them up. Sometimes they’d use a pea shooter to hit the windows.

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In the medieval era, Fullers were in high demand. This profession consisted of young men and women who washed cloth to rid it of oils and other contaminants. After the cloth was clean, the fullers would use it to create clothing and other items. This was a pretty big profession during that time, though it became less needed as new technology was invented.

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Back in the 1800s, the nickname hobbler referred to people who worked on boats. The nickname probably originated from the way these workers would hobble around on the boats as they rocked in the ocean’s current. Their job was to tow river and canal boats, and this position still exists to this day. No one uses the name hobbler anymore, though!

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The term “vivandiere” is French, and it was used to describe women who served alongside soldiers during wartime. These women took care of injured troops, prepared meals, carried canteens, and performed other non-fighting tasks. This was a highly respected job and gave many women an excellent career. The French War Ministry banned this position before the start of World War II.

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Hush Shopkeeper

The term hush shopkeeper came about during Prohibition. During this time, it was illegal to sell alcoholic beverages, though many people still did. The people who secretly sold alcohol were known as hush shopkeepers. They had to keep their dealings very secret until the end of Prohibition.

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Office culture today is very different from what it was in the early 1900s. Back then, there were no social media to scroll through during down times, so employers needed to find a different way to keep their workers entertained during long days. Lectors were tasked with reading newspapers, books, and other forms of literature to keep the office workers entertained. It sounds like a pretty fun job!

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We bet you never wondered how streetlamps were lit back in the 1800s and early 1900s. Before the introduction of electric streetlights, people had to go around and manually light every streetlamp. This was good, steady employment for many men during this time period, although the profession eventually became defunct. There are a few lamplighters left in certain areas of the world, but most regions use electric streetlights now.

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Log Drivers

Getting logs from the forest to the mills for processing was a difficult task before technology advanced to the point it’s at today. Log drivers were needed to escort logs across waterways so that they could be brought to the mills. As you can imagine, this was a pretty dangerous job and was replaced quickly once there was the necessary technology available.

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Leech Collector

Leeches were considered medical miracle workers back in the 19th century. These blood suckers were thought to possess the ability to suck diseases and illnesses straight out of a person’s body. Doctors would prescribe leeches for most conditions, and then leech collectors would be tasked with rounding up all the leeches. Eventually, the use of leeches fell out of practice and eliminated the need for leech collectors.

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The poor have always been given the worst jobs, and this profession was one of the yuckiest. Mudlarks were generally young, financially insecure people who would spend their days digging through the mud in search of valuables. If they found anything valuable, they would sell the items to the public. It wasn’t exactly steady work or pay, but it was a job nearly anyone could do, regardless of status.

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When you hear the term “lungs,” you’re probably going to think of the organs that allow you to breathe. Back in the 14th and 16th centuries, lungs were people employed by alchemist shops to fan the fire. They provided the fire with oxygen, which is probably where the name came from. However, the job fell out of use once people realized how damaging the job was to the worker’s actual lungs.

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During the 19th century, resurrectionists were very important to the workings of medical schools. Medical students needed deceased bodies to practice surgeries, and it was the resurrectionist’s job to dig up graves and bring the bodies to the school. While there’s still some debate over why this profession ended, many believe it was due to ethical reasons.

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Necessary Women

Necessary women performed necessary tasks before the colonial period. Someone had to empty the chamber pots during this period, and it was often the job of necessary women. During the colonial period, indoor bathrooms and plumbing became fairly common, so this role was no longer necessary. We wonder which task necessary women took over after families got rid of chamber pots!

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While this would be considered pseudoscience by today’s standards, phrenology was taken very seriously back in the day. Phrenologists practiced a form of psychology where they tried to determine character traits and other mentalities of people by looking at the shape of their skulls. This practice was eventually banned and became out of practice in 1967.

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Powder Monkey

During the period when wars were often fought at sea, men who loaded the cannons with gunpowder were known as powder monkeys. No one’s positive who coined this name for the position, but it existed for many years while ships fought at sea. Eventually, as artillery and the art of war advanced, this position was eliminated.

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Don’t let the name confuse you! Badgers didn’t go around badgering people, nor does this name reference a profession in which people dealt with actual badgers. Back in the day, farmers often used a middleman to sell their items at local markets. These men were known as badgers. They’d buy the products from the farmers and then resell them at markets for a higher price. It sounds a little like the resellers on eBay today!

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A daguerreotype was the very first type of camera that could be used in public. The people who captured pictures and developed them through a chemical process with this camera were known as daguerreotypists. This profession blew up once famous men such as Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass had their portraits captured by daguerreotypists. Of course, new technologies were eventually invented that rendered this job obsolete. Everyone just uses their cellphones these days!

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Signalmen were very important before the 1960s. These men were responsible for managing multiple switches and levers by hand to direct the path of trains and ensure they were moving in the right direction. This was a very important job and came with a high level of respect. This process eventually became computerized, and signalmen were no longer needed.

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Before every store had a craft section and large retail stores devoted to crafts emerged, haberdashery stores provided all the sewing and related equipment a person could need. The person who ran these stores were known as haberdashers. Many women shopped at these stores to buy fabrics and other supplies to create clothing and linens for their families. These stores were eventually put out of business by big-name retailers who offered more items for a lower price.

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Town Crier

Town criers actually had a very important job. It was the job of a town crier to stand in the middle of town and shout important news during the day. This is how many people kept up with current events during the 18th century. Of course, this position didn’t last long once people began to rely more on newspapers. Eventually, the invention of radios and other technology rendered this position totally obsolete.

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Red Smith

Red smiths came about in the 1700s. These men worked with shiny red coppers and created a variety of items from the metal. The name “red smith” came from the beautiful color of the raw copper. The profession changed over the years, and now you’ll find metal smiths doing a similar line of work, although they work with far more than copper!

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Film Boxer

Do you remember a time before online streaming and instant access to all your favorite entertainment? Well, back in the 90s, video entertainment companies needed to hire film boxers to keep their operation running smoothly. Film boxers would collect and package film canisters so they could be stored and shipped. This is yet another job that ceased to exist due to advancing technology. Almost no one uses this type of film anymore!

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Book Peddler

Many authors preferred to have a brick and motor location where they could sell their works, but some decided to take a different approach. Book peddlers would go door-to-door with their products. They’d offer samples to people and try to convince them to buy their work. Some people even still try this method to this day, although many people aren’t particularly friendly to door-to-door salesmen anymore!

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The 19th century saw several major changes in the way most communities operated. The manufacturing industry and urbanization experienced massive economic growth, which led to many necessary changes. Quarrymen worked in construction sites to mine stones that had multiple uses, and it was relentless work. It was a physically demanding job that many working-class men had to take to provide for their families.

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Herb Strewer

Can you imagine a time before organized sewage systems? It was not a pleasant way to live! Back in the 17th century, the majority of the human waste produced in London ended up in the river Thames. This created an awful stench for the people living in London. The herb strewers combated this terrible smell by spreading herbal and floral aromas through the royal family’s home. They would also dress up and attend royal events with herb baskets to continuously mask the stench.

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Radio Actors

Before television was invented, people had very limited options for entertainment. They could attend live performances on occasion, but most people relied on the radio to keep them entertained. Radio actors performed monologues, dramas, and other forms of entertainment on the radio. There are still some areas of the world where radio actors continue to be very popular today!

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Pre-Radar Listener

Before the days of radar and advanced aircraft detection devices, armies around the world still needed a way to detect approaching enemy aircraft. It looks a little crazy, but the device in the picture used listening devices and acoustic mirrors so the listener could warn the army of approaching enemies. These devices allowed them to trace the sound of engines from quite a distance!

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Soda Jerk

While this particular profession no longer exists, it’s very similar to today’s baristas. Soda jerks were served ice cream and drinks to people during the 20th century. They were required to wear bowties and paper hats while serving to create an exciting and festive atmosphere. Soda jerks worked for small businesses, and eventually, the profession was replaced by today’s modern-day baristas.

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Groom Of The Stool

Royalty always received special treatment as part of their status, and this profession is an excellent example of that special treatment. Back during Tudor times, it was the job of the groom of the stool to undress Kings and wipe their bottoms after they used the bathroom. Often, the groom of the stool would then pass the cotton used to wipe the King’s bottom off to medical professionals, who would inspect it to make sure the King was healthy.

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Dictaphone Operators

Dictaphone operators paved the way for today’s transcriptionists. A dictaphone operator would help a person record whatever they needed, which was usually notes from business meetings or legal meetings. Now, we have our smartphones to record our voices when needed, but dictaphone operators helped provide this service back in the day.

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Soup Tester

You may have heard of this position in the past, and it’s one that still exists in certain areas of the world. Soup testers were paid to taste the food made for royalty to ensure it was of good quality and not poisoned. Many royal families around the world still employee people to test their food for them, but this includes far more than soup!

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Barber Surgeon

This is an interesting look at how people used to work. During the Middle Ages, many barbers doubled as surgeons during times of war. They would go from cutting soldiers’ hair to performing complex operations in the field. While both barbers and surgeons still exist today, there aren’t many people trained in both professions anymore!

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Plague Doctor

Coming down with the plague was a death sentence for most people during the 1600s. The brave souls who attempted to treat plague patients were referred to as plague doctors, and they often wore the terrifying costumes shown in this photo. These practitioners would carry a wand so they could treat patients without touching them, and their beaked masks were filled with herbs and spices meant to purify the air they breathed.

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Breaker Boy

This is another unfortunate example of child labor in our history. During the 1920s, young boys between the ages of eight and twelve would work alongside coal miners as breaker boys. It was their job to break up the coal and help the miners with other minor tasks. As child labor laws became more strict and technology provided less intensive methods, the position of breaker boy disappeared.

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Water Carrier

Before modern plumbing and transportation became a thing, every town needed water carriers. As the name suggests, it was the job of these men to literally carry huge containers of water through town. This was a necessary job, and it actually still exists in some parts of the world. A water carrier was interviewed in India by BBC in 2015 and explained how many people still made their living from this position as little as 30 years previously.

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Toad Doctor

We’d have to put this medicinal practice up there with leeches and phrenologists. Toad doctors were very popular in England during the 19th century and practiced a type of medicine based on folk magic. A type of tuberculosis known as Scrofula was very prominent during this time period, and toad doctors believed that placing a toad in a muslin bag and placing it on their patient’s necks would cure them! Medicinal practices were pretty crazy during the 19th century!

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Telegraphists were essential workers during war efforts back when the telegraph was the main source of communication. These workers would relay important information to troops and provided an efficient method of communication. New technology rendered telegraphists obsolete during the early 1900s.

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Dispatch Riders

Dispatch riders were also essential workers during wartime. During the early 1900s, communities relied on dispatch riders to deliver information across long distances. Radio transmitters were still very unreliable during this time, so dispatch riders filled the gap in communication and delivered important messages during and between the World Wars.