15 jobs from the past that no longer exist
Outdated occupations that have bitten the dust, Remember doffers, rat-catchers and video store clerks? Robots may be stealing jobs left, right and center nowadays, but plenty of professions have vanished over the years as society has changed and technology has progressed.
Here are 10 occupations from way back when that no longer exist.
A stoker or fireman was the unlucky individual tasked with tending the fire in the boiler of a steam train, ship or sawmill The job entailed lots of shoveling coal in horrifically high temperatures, and was not for the faint-hearted. Mercifully, the introduction of electric locomotives, ships and so on in the 20th century rendered the profession obsolete.
9. Buggy whip maker
This ill-fated occupation of yesteryear is often cited by economists as a classic example of how technological progress can kill an entire sector. The buggy whip industry was thriving in the 1890s with thousands of companies producing the essential riding accessory but had all but vanished by the early 20th century as the automobile replaced the horse and carriage.
8. Muffin man
Do you know the muffin man? In the U.K., this cheery hawker would go from house to house at breakfast time carrying a tray of freshly-baked English muffins on his head. The practice continued well into the 20th century in some cities. This photograph of a London muffin man was taken in 1924.
7. Breaker boy
Another Victorian profession that has thankfully disappeared, coal breaking entailed separating impurities from coal by hand and was mainly carried out by children. The work was dangerous and children often cut and burned their hands, and some even lost their lives. Public condemnation grew in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and by 1920 the cruel practice had ended.
A profession straight out of the fairy tale books, rat-catchers used everything from ferrets and terrier dogs to poison and traps to control vermin in villages, towns, and cities, but were often accused of covertly raising and releasing rats to boost their workload. These days, their job has long been taken over by pest control technicians.
Child labor was sadly a fact of life in many Western countries up to and during the early 20th century. Doffers, for instance, were nimble-fingered young boys who worked in textile factories removing and replacing bobbins from the spinning frames and were a common sight in American mills until 1933, when child labor was finally outlawed.
4. Night soil collector
This most revolting of occupations called for a weak sense of smell and super-strong stomach. Night soil collectors had the unfortunate job of removing human waste from people’s privies. The profession was prevalent in 19th-century America, Europe, and Australia before widespread sewerage systems were built, and still survives nowadays in some countries, notably India and Japan.
Back in the days when alarm clocks were pricey and unreliable, knocker-uppers would do the rounds each morning and wake factory workers by banging on their front doors with a heavy stick or similar implement. The profession, which was common in the industrial cities of Britain and Ireland during the 19th and early 20th centuries, didn’t actually die out until the 1950s in some places.
From the late 1800s onwards, Cuban cigar factories hired lectors to read mainly left-wing books, newspapers and so on to workers while they rolled away. The custom spread to the US in the early 20th century but was banned in the country in 1931 by factory owners, who were concerned the lectors were spreading communist and anarchist ideas.
In the late 19th century, the towns and cities of Europe and North America were teeming with gas-powered lamps, and it was the lamplighters’ job to fire them up each evening. Gas was replaced by electricity in the early 20th century, but several cities have retained a limited number of gas lamps, including London, which boasts 1,500 lamps and five part-time lamplighters.