51 Jobs That Don't Exist Anymore (And What To Do About It)
Updated May 13, 2023
Many occupations that were commonplace in the past no longer exist on resumes today. Some disappeared due to advancing technology, while others were intentionally replaced due to improved labor laws. Reviewing these former jobs may provide some humor and perspective about your current job and help you understand how to choose a secure field.
In this article, we explore 51 jobs that don't exist anymore and discuss what to do if you're in a job that's disappearing.
51 jobs that don't exist anymore
Some of these jobs have transformed into new roles with new titles due to technological advances, while others are now common colloquial terms despite disappearing as actual jobs. Here are 51 jobs that are no longer around:
1. Leech collector
A leech collector was responsible for retrieving the blood-sucking worms from their natural habitat for doctors to use. Individuals with this job used the legs of animals or their own legs to lure leeches from creeks and rivers.
2. Knocker upper
Knocker uppers, or knocker-ups, were responsible for waking people up by making loud noises before electronic alarm clocks existed. People in the 1800s would hire these individuals to shoot peas at their windows or tap on the glass using a long pole to wake them up.
3. Hush shopkeeper
During Prohibition in the United States, when it was illegal to buy, sell or consume alcohol, a hush shopkeeper sold alcohol discretely to customers they trusted. They got their name from keeping their illegal business secret. While people earned money as hush shopkeepers, their position was non-compliant with federal law.
In ancient eras, an alchemist was a philosopher who tried to convert chemicals into gold. People considered them magical, as they usually tried to make special elixirs to treat diseases or grant immortality.
5. Gandy dancer
A gandy dancer was a railroad worker who carried out any task related to the railroad track. Their responsibilities included setting ties, hammering spikes and replacing rails. A gandy dancer was an integral part of railroad maintenance in the 1820s.
6. Human computer
Human computers were responsible for making calculations for scientific, research and technology organizations. A human computer employed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) might have used math to determine the number of rockets needed to make a plane airborne. They performed these calculations on graph paper, and they could take up to a week.
7. Caddy butcher
Caddy butchers specialized in processing and selling horse meat, popular in both the United Kingdom and the United States until the 1940s. Horse meat was cheap then and considered an alternative to venison or beef.
Related: How To Become a Butcher
Phrenologists specialized in studying the human brain based on the size and shape of a person's head. Phrenologists believed the shape of people's heads correlated to their intelligence and used mechanical devices to prove their theories. Neuroscientists have since disproved this pseudoscience.
In ancient Greece, bematists measured their steps to calculate distances. They often published their calculations in books, which listed distances between well-known points and reports of empirical customs and natural findings. These positions became obsolete as mapping and measurement technology developed. Today, cartographers and geographic information systems (GIS) engineers measure distances and study spatial relationships.
10. Linotype operator
Linotype operators used the Linotype machine, a hot-metal typesetting device used to print newspapers and magazines in the 19th century. These operators arranged the letters, spaces and numbers to produce molds for text. As digital printing became popular in the 20th century, the linotype became useless.
11. Scissors grinder
A scissors grinder sharpened knives, scissors and tools using an abrasive wheel. These individuals sometimes went door to door performing the service. The job disappeared by the 1970s, as most people found it cheaper and easier to purchase new tools instead of sharpening their old ones. Many specialty shops and knife retailers offer sharpening services now, but it's no longer considered a specific profession.
12. Ice cutter
Before reliable freezing and refrigeration existed, ice cutters collected surface ice from rivers and lakes to sell. To cut through the ice, they often used hand saws or horse-drawn devices.
13. Food taster
A food taster was responsible for tasting food prepared for an important figure to ensure it was poison-free. They generally tested food served to public figures who may be at risk, such as a member of a royal family. Today's food industry employs tasters to review foods for quality, but it's a vastly different position than in ancient times.
14. Billy boy
A billy boy was a young person tasked with making tea for people working at railway yards, blacksmiths and building sites. During break times, a billy boy, who employers generally considered an apprentice, might make tea by light a fire and boil water in lightweight cooking pots called "billycans" to make tea.
Related: FAQ: What Are Apprenticeships
A telegraphist, also called a telegraph operator, was responsible for sending and receiving Morse code using telegraph equipment to communicate by radio and landlines. A telegraphist was one of the first technological occupations of the modern era, but as telegraphs became obsolete, so the role disappeared.
Before bowling alleys had automated pin set-up and retrieval machines, pinsetters removed and replaced pins between each turn. These individuals waited at the end of the lanes and reset the pins manually.
17. Water carrier
In India, in the 1600s, a water carrier collected potable water and carried it back to a village, providing fresh water to individuals and families. However, as pipe systems evolved and became more commonplace, the job became obsolete.
18. Herb strewer
In the 16th and 17th centuries, an herb strewer placed fresh herbs inside and around a castle or palace to reduce odors. The job became unnecessary when perfumes were invented and plumbing and sewage systems became more advanced.
19. Toad doctor
Toad doctors were care providers who used toads to treat medical ailments. Beginning in the 1600s, medical researchers and doctors believed that toads had healing properties, and they began to use toads in the practice of medicine. They used dried powdered toads to soothe inflammation and relieve headaches and skin conditions.
Before electric street lights, a lamplighter would go around town extinguishing and lighting gas-burning street lamps. When cities replaced gas lamps with electric light bulbs, lamplighters became jobless.
21. Elevator operator
An elevator operator was responsible for manually closing and opening elevator doors, controlling the car's speed and telling patrons what companies were on each floor. In most modern buildings, guests can press buttons themselves that automatically operate the elevator.
In the United Kingdom in the 1700s, drysalters were salespeople who provided chemical products, such as dry chemicals and dyes, used in salted, tinned and dried food or edible oils. Some drysalters also traded potash, logwood, flax and hemp.
23. Crossing sweeper
A crossing sweeper was a 19th-century maintenance employee who swept dirty streets throughout the day. Wealthy people often paid crossing sweepers to prevent contact with waste or to protect their long skirts or articles of clothing.
24. Rat catcher
Rat catchers were typically young people who chased and captured rats during the Victorian era. These catchers were common during this time because cities like London were infested with rats, commonly known as carriers of various diseases. Rat catchers caught and killed rats with poison or wooden sticks to eradicate them from the streets.
25. Soda jerk
Soda jerks, or soda jerkers, were responsible for maintaining soda fountains and dispensing soda into a glass from a spigot behind a counter. They also made egg creams and milkshakes. As the food and dining industry transformed, soda fountains became less popular. Today, servers and cooks in restaurants may perform some of these duties.
26. Plague doctor
Plague doctors were 14th-century health care providers who treated people infected with the Bubonic Plague. The plague doctors used masks to protect themselves from the contagious air, and many used a wooden cane to check patients without touching them.
In the early 1900s, a physiognomist evaluated a person's character or personality from their physical appearance. Physiognomists believed that physical features could denote personality traits like sincerity and openness. It had applications in science, philosophy and criminology, but as the pseudoscience became controversial, the job became obsolete.
A daguerreotypist was responsible for capturing photos using a daguerreotype, the first form of the camera available to the public. The daguerreotype was very popular in the mid-19th century and captured images of many politicians and celebrities of the time. Today's photographers typically use film and digital cameras to capture photos and videos.
Related: 31 Careers in Photography
In ancient Rome, a nomenclator announced the names of people or guests visiting their employer. Politicians in Rome, especially, often hired nomenclators. These nomenclators whispered the names of guests or people as they approached during political rallies to help the politician appear knowledgeable and personable.
In the early 1900s, factories employed a lector to read books or newspapers aloud to keep employees entertained. The lector would often stand or sit on an elevated surface while reading the news so the entire factory could hear.
31. Town crier
In medieval England, a town crier informed the townspeople of the latest proclamations, news and information, as many people were illiterate or non-readers. After the town crier read the message, they would post a notice on the door of a local bar or inn. This practice inspired the term "post" in contemporary journalism.
Resurrectionists exhumed the bodies of the recently deceased and delivered them to doctor's offices and medical colleges in the 18th century. As modern medical science grew as a profession, the demand for corpses increased. Practicing anatomists and medical students dissected these cadavers to learn the human body's inner workings.
33. Clock keeper
In the middle ages, people hired clock keepers to track time and maintain clocks and timekeeping devices. Clock keepers often received significant amounts of money to ensure the accuracy of a clock, as the job involved some basic skills in mathematics before these skills were common.
34. Film projectionist
A film projectionist was responsible for operating a film projector in a cinema. With the rise of digital projection, using film to project movies in cinemas is a rarity, making this job obsolete in most areas.
35. Breaker boy
To separate impurities from coal, coal breakers in the U.S. relied on breaker boys who were children between 8 to 12 years old. Because this job was labor-intensive, many people argued against allowing children to work in these conditions. It continued into the early 1920s until the coal separation technology improved and child labor laws became more strictly enforced.
36. Aircraft listener
Before World War II, governments employed aircraft listeners who used acoustic mirrors to detect the sound of an enemy's aircraft engine. While acoustic mirrors may have effectively detected sound, enemy aircraft were often too close to take preventive action by the time the listeners issued a warning.
37. Log driver
Before the infrastructure or technology was available to transport logs by timber lorry or logging truck, log drivers would use the current of a river to transport them from a forest to pup mills and sawmills downstream. Today's logging industry employs truck drivers to transport logs in specialized vehicles.
During the Victorian era in London, toshers broke into the city's sewage system and searched for pieces of bones, metal scraps, coins or valuable items. In 1840, entering sewers became illegal, and individuals who caught others breaking this law received a reward, discouraging sewer-hunting and making the career obsolete.
Before pasteurized milk and household refrigerators, milkmen delivered milk daily to customers' homes to prevent spoilage. With the rise of home refrigeration, the occupation disappeared.
40. Dispatch rider
A dispatch rider was a motorcyclist responsible for delivering urgent messages between militaries during World War I and II. Radio transmissions during wartime were unstable and prone to interception, so reliable and quick motorcycle couriers were necessary during these pressing situations.
41. Cavalry soldier
Cavalry soldiers mostly rode on horseback but could also ride elephants or camels. World War I and II were the last major conflicts that relied on cavalry. Today's militaries generally use ground, air and water vehicles for transportation.
Scribes listened to events and speeches and manually wrote down each word to create a manuscript. The invention of computers, word processors and recording software made this position unnecessary. Today, transcriptionists use digital devices to create written records of programs, videos, conversations and speeches. The health care field still uses the term medical scribe, but this role involves a wide variety of administrative functions, including note-taking and data entry.
43. Mud clerk
Mud clerks were support workers on steamboats during the American Civil War. They performed basic maintenance tasks, such as cleaning and repairs, and ran errands to secure supplies for captains and officers. They also often helped remove the boats when they sank into the mud, hence the role's title.
44. Switchboard operator
Switchboard operators answered phone calls using switchboards, which were manual telephone systems that hosted multiple calls on various lines. They answered calls, spoke with callers and directed them to the appropriate party. Digital telephones eventually replaced switchboards, and switchboard operators became unnecessary. Today, receptionists answer calls using digital switchboard software.
45. Video rental associate
Video rental associates worked in stores that rented and sold video home system (VHS) tapes and digital versatile discs (DVDs). Their duties included stocking the shelves, helping customers locate movies and processing transactions. The rise of streaming services and on-demand movies overtook physical media in recent decades, making video rental stores untenable.
46. VHS repairman
VHS repairmen visited customers' homes to inspect and fix malfunctioning VHS players. They also repaired machines customers brought into their shops. As VHS tapes became less common, this position disappeared. Today's equivalent might be a handyperson or a television repair person.
47. Telegram messenger
Telegram messengers traveled to people's homes or workplaces, delivering printed messages that had been transmitted by telegraph. They might have carried the response when they returned to the telegraph office so it could be telegraphed to the original sender. As telephones and electronic messaging devices replaced telegrams, these messengers became unnecessary.
48. Punch card operator
Before the advent of digital technology, many businesses used paper punch cards, sheets of thick paper that used punctured holes to track and store data. These punch cards were useful in accounting tasks such as tracking budgets and keeping payroll records. Punch card operators used machines to make holes in the punch cards and maintained these cards as business records.
49. Typewriter mechanic
A typewriter mechanic was a repairperson who diagnosed and repaired mechanical typewriters, typesetting machines previously used to print written texts by striking a series of keys. As people switched to computers and digital printers, typewriters and related professions disappeared.
50. Court jester
Court jesters were entertainers who performed for royal households and public crowds during medieval and Renaissance times. Jesters' acts generally involved humorous songs, stories and acrobatics, and they usually wore colorful costumes.
A wheelwright was a tradesperson who designed and built wooden wheels. They typically constructed these wheels for use on farming equipment and steam-powered machines. As wooden wheels fell in popularity in the late 20th century, wheelwrights became far less prevalent.
What to do if you're in a disappearing job
As technology advances, positions that were once in demand may become far less common or eventually obsolete, like the above jobs. For example, as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more commonplace, technology roles such as coders, technical writers, data analysts and graphic designers may wane in popularity. Digital technology also threatens teachers, receptionists, customer service representatives and accountants. If you're in a job that may soon become obsolete, you can prepare to pursue a new, more secure role. Here are some ways to prepare:
Research alternative jobs using transferable skills
While your exact position may become unnecessary, you've likely developed some skills that are useful in other industries. For example, if you worked as a coder, you might leverage your technical skills to pursue a career in software sales.
Go back to school
If you want a more in-demand technical position, you could pursue a bachelor's or master's degree to learn the necessary qualifications and skills. Alternatively, you could go to trade school to pursue a skilled trade that's unlikely to disappear, such as plumbing or electrical engineering.
Get certification in an adjacent field
If you already have beneficial skills, you might pursue a certificate to qualify you for a new role. For example, a travel agent might get a hospitality management certification and look for work as a hotel manager.
Start your own business
Rather than seeking a new employer, you could consider starting a business that uses your specialized skills. Research in-demand industries to learn what the most stable markets are.
Work with a career coach
If you're unsure what field to pursue next, consider hiring a career coach who can help you analyze your strengths and interests to identify your best path. These individuals often have updated information on what careers are likely to be in demand in the future.
Plan for retirement
If you've been in your field for many years, meeting with a financial planner to prepare for retirement might be beneficial. They can typically help you develop a strategy to meet your financial goals before your job becomes extinct.
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