While looking into the career paths we saw disappear in 2014 I stumbled upon this list of jobs that once existed but that don’t anymore. It was neat. So, I made my own list, building from that one.

Once upon a time, these occupations were viable ways of making a living. Not anymore. Thanks mostly to technology, of course.

I tried to pick the jobs that are, if not entirely extinct, pretty much so – or at least diminished to the point of real rarity. Some of the posts I had originally listed wound up getting cut because, to my surprise, it turns out people still do those things. Chimney sweeps are still sweeping chimneys, people do still send telegrams, if not very often, and many a lighthouse is still manned by a keeper. Canada alone has 37 staffed lighthouses according to the Canadian Lightkeepers Association.

Still, someone is going to be like “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone uses a knocker-upper in Flergburg!” or “There are typing pools all over the great country of Kanaderianistan!” To which I say, sorry. I wasn’t aware.

Also, what jobs did I miss?


Lamplighter: An employee of the city who lit the streetlamps, so people could see their way at night. Today we know of two cities in Europe – Brest, Belarus, and Wroclaw, Poland – that still employ lamplighters as a charming throwback.


Bowling alley pinsetter (or pinboy): The pinsetter was the guy who reset the pins after you knocked them down (in my case he’d spend a lot of time sitting around. I got the worst score at Workopolis’s recent bowling event. True story). The mechanical pinsetter was invented in 1936, says Wikipedia, eventually putting the humans out of work.


Log driver: Log driving is a means of moving tree trunks from a forest to sawmills and pulp mills using the current of a river. “It was the main transportation method of the early logging industry in Europe and North America,” says Wikipedia. Drivers were the men who guided the logs on the river.

knocker up

Knocker up (knocker upper): Before there was an alarm clock in every home, the knocker up would get you up in time to go to work by knocking on your windows, it looks like from the images. Where’s the snooze button? (image: Laboiteverte)


Town crier: Before newspapers, you had to get the news somehow. It was this officer of the court’s job to ring a bell and let you know what was going on by shouting it out. Some towns still have town criers as novelties or honorary appointments, but they don’t serve the same purpose because of this thing called the internet.


Ice man: Before refrigerators for home use (invented in 1913) became the norm, the ice man would come around and sell ice from his cart with which to stock your icebox. You might still find an iceman in an Amish community.


Rat catcher: Before modern pest control methods came to be, the ratcatcher would catch rats by hand. It was a dangerous job with high risk of bites and disease. It’s been suggested that rat catchers would purposely inflate the rat population so that there would be better takings.


Typing pool typist: a typing pool was a group of secretaries (which is what we once called administrative assistants) whose job was to type up documents for the guys who weren’t important enough to have their own personal secretaries. This was a common job for young women.


Switchboard operator: Before smartphones there were landlines, and before automatic exchanges, an operator had to manually connect you to the party you were calling through a switchboard. Organizations like hotels and hospitals might still have central switchboards, but not regular communication companies. Also a common job for women.


Lector: It seems this job was specific to cigar factories, where lectors entertained workers by reading books or newspapers aloud. “In the United States, the custom was brought to an end in the Tampa cigar makers’ strike of 1931,” says Wikipedia, though there are still lectors in Cuban factories.

(All images from Wikimedia Commons except where noted)