22 Jobs That Don’t Exist Anymore

Before electricity and machines, most of our needs required the help of another person. This produced a wide array of curious jobs, and these professions, which are now completely obsolete and extinct, may even seem bizarre today. Others, however, will definitely get the nostalgia wave going. Don’t miss #19 and #7 for some of the weirdest jobs which don’t exist anymore!

#22. Powder Monkey

Sure, if someone asks you what “powder monkey” is, the first thing that immediately pops to your head might be that it’s a cool retro videogame. But don’t let the adorable name deceive you, being a powder monkey was actually a very dangerous job!

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Yes, you read that correctly. A powder monkey had to spend its days sailing the oceans on gigantic Navy ships. When a battle took place, the task was to run across the ship from one cannon to the other, carrying the gunpowder. What a stressful job!

#21. Gandy Dancer

Indeed, you’ll find a lot of professions that have gone obsolete which required great strength and perseverance and paid a miserable couple of bucks. This one checks all of the boxes, and it’ll probably make you feel happier about your current job.

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Every history book agrees with the fact that the invention of railroads modified human communication like no other creation had done at the time. Well, I hope people thanked the gandy dancers with hugs and kisses back in those days, because they were the ones who had to lay down the tracks before the task could be done by machines.

#20. Leech Collector

Don’t know about you, but if I had to execute this gruesome task every day I would be found with a more frightening expression than the ones these women have. Yes, I know it’s actually a drawing, but still, I’d rather do anything else instead of searching for bugs!

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Why did communities need to send people to the rivers in search of these black, bloodsucking bugs, you might wonder? Well, as a matter of fact, in the 19th Century doctors firmly believed that these worms helped to remove impurities from the patient’s system. If you’re curious, you can still try this treatment out, some alternative medicine modalities still use it!

#19. Resurrectionist

You might be familiar with the fact that you can promise to donate your organs once you’re dead. In fact, many people sign this commitment in order to help others. This task is probably easy for today’s medicine, with the technological development of the last decades. But was it always so simple?

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Back in the day, a “resurrectionist” had to illegally break into a cemetery and dig up bodies for scientific research. Good luck this profession doesn’t exist anymore! Yes, maybe it was for a noble cause, but you’d have to be a creepy guy to accept this bizarre job, that’s for sure!

#18. Punkah-Wallah

This is probably the job with the strangest name in the list. Punkah-wallah actually means “fan guy” in Hindi. The name is quite accurate because I’m pretty sure that each time someone asked a Punka-wallah what they did for a living, they probably answered: “I’m the fan guy”.

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An air conditioner is a pretty normal commodity in every household nowadays, at least in the warmer regions of the country. But in the past, before electricity, a man had to pull a cord which would move the swings from a big horizontal fan which dangled from the ceiling. I bet you can’t come up with a more repetitive profession than this one!

#17. Dog Catcher & Dog Whipper

A tremendous amount of stray dogs lurking through the streets of a city is not a problem anymore. Believe it or not, though only a few can be spotted today (and some of these eventually get adopted) a large group of stray dogs was a pretty common sight in the past.

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Back then, many people feared that these wild dogs would spread diseases or attack a random passerby. As a result, the existence of dog catchers isn’t much of a surprise. But that’s not all: a job called dog whipper also existed, and their goal was to scare dogs away from church services. 

#16. Crossing Sweeper

Crossing sweeping was generally an activity undertaken by young kids. As the first entry on this list also showed, children were unfortunately employed for different jobs in past centuries. However, this profession was a tad less stressful than running in a ship with gunpowder from one canyon to another.

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The crossing-sweeper position was occupied by small boys who roamed the streets in need of money. They kindly offered to sweep a path through the street when a wealthy, old couple appeared. These young workers would later be used by no other than Charles Dickens on his novels, as a symbol for the government’s inefficiency to solve poverty and garbage disposal with real solutions.

#15. Video Store Clerk

This is actually a job that most of you should remember since it’s disappearance is pretty recent. In fact, Millenial readers will probably shed a tear or two. Yep, the nostalgia is real for this one, fellas. Before Internet sites which let anyone download a movie or streaming services as Netflix appeared, people just went to video stores.

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Choosing the movie which was going to be rented for the weekend at Blockbuster was an activity with a mystic of its own. However, when the DVD replaced the VHS tapes, and the streaming frenzy began to appear, this was the end for the video store clerks. If you’re curious, there’s still one Blockbuster store open in Australia, it’s the only one in the world!

#14. Vivandière

Besides being a terrible mistake, wars, (and the military academies in general too) have also always been things of difficult access for women. Before the introduction of female battlefield nurses, women’s activity in the battle zone was nonexistent, except for one sole profession…

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And this profession was the vivandière. Women who courageously accepted this job had to provide the soldiers with wine, while also serving as a motherly or sisterly figure for them. A vivandière had her own uniform, and she was very respected for her help.

#13. Rat Catcher

Rats have been feared and loathed animals since the Black Plague expanded through Europe in the Middle Ages. Indeed, everyone associates rats with dirt, contamination, and as a synonym of disease spreading. So if someone spots a squeaky rodent in their house, yeah, that someone will freak out.

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Nowadays the solution is easy, you can easily purchase a trap or a poison can in the supermarket. But in the old days, do you know what people would do? They’d call the rat catcher! A couple of minutes later he’d arrive with a shovel, a gun, a net, and other tools; any resource was valid to stop a rat!

#12. Chandler

No, we don’t know the Friends character’s job either, so sorry to disappoint you if you assumed this was going to be about that. The profession chandler was as a matter of fact related to the candle industry. Yes, the preparation of different candles was once a tricky process.

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This was obviously before machines and electricity appeared to make life easier. Before technology replaced chandlers, they had to shape the complex candles used for religious ceremonies and other special occasions with their own hands. This tough process involved rendering animal fat, and guess what, it smelled terrible!

#11. Linotype Operator

This is one of those jobs which you’ll find extremely anachronic and obsolete today. That’s right, there are no linotype operators nowadays, though it was once a popular profession. Do you want to know why it went extinct? Because newspapers can now be written and edited by computer.

Photo: Courtesy of The New York Times.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine a time when this wasn’t a possibility, but it’s true. These gigantic machines had to be used to hammer the words with its hot metal blocks with letters on the other side. If an important event took place at 3 A.M., forget about it because last-second changes weren’t a possibility for the editors!

#10. Water-Carrier

Technological progress produces an ambivalent feeling when evaluating the pros and cons of different inventions. Though some creations contaminate and sadly replaced many workers’ jobs, it’s undeniable that our lives are easier by having some of these things at our disposal.

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One of these essential things is a centralized water system for every town and city. Before this was possible, water carriers had to patiently fill their buckets and walk to different homes, while attempting to prevent any spilling. That surely required a lot of concentration! And imagine if one of them sneezed on their way. It doesn’t seem like a hygienic system at all!

#9. Clock Winder

If you’re the type of person that arrives an hour late to any event, you’ve got no excuse. I don’t want to make you feel guilty, but come on, nowadays we can check the time with only a quick glance at our smartphones! There’s really no solid excuse, but this wasn’t the case before.

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Before digital clocks were invented, the gigantic clocks which stand tall on the main square of a city were of paramount importance. Indeed, having a wristwatch was once a scarce luxury. Hence the crucial role of the clock winders, which closely monitored the Big Ben, for example.

#8. Lector

The Industrial Revolution definitely brought some significant economic and political changes. But what’s often overlooked about this period is the harsh conditions to which workers were subjected. Fortunately enough, child labor laws arrived and soon improved the situation a bit.

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So factory workers in the 20th Century were doing better than before. Yet, they were usually uneducated and/or illiterate, thus the lector’s appearance. This job emerged in Cuban cigar factories, and it consisted of reading the news out loud, in order to keep the workers informed. What a sharp idea, right?

#7. Knocker Upper

The alarm clock was a revolutionary invention on its own, but it already seems to be a bit dated. To be honest, most of us set three or four alarms on our smartphone, and this lets us calmly sleep with the confidence that at least we’ll react to one of those alarms.

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So, how did people wake up in time for work or class before these devices? No need for panic, because the knocker-upper would solve the issue right away! A knocker-upper was someone hired to tap your window with a pole or to spit a pea at it if it was too high. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?

#6. Elevator Operator

If there’s an extinct job on this list which was probably a nightmare for introverts, this is the one. As it happens, before elevators with electronic buttons existed, a human operator had to aid people by pulling a lever. Therefore, if you worked at a busy building, you’d have to interact with tons of people per day.

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But pulling a lever in order to help people get to a certain floor wasn’t the only task for this type of worker. Constantly sharp concentration was a must since great timing was necessary to stop the elevator at the correct moment. Slide on to discover the top 5 jobs which don’t exist anymore!

#5. Switchboard Operator

SMS messages definitely revolutionized the virtual communication world, and the same applies to our current apps like Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp. We may have naturalized this comfortably quick way of communicating with each other, but it’s pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.

Photo: Courtesy of Women Of World War II.

Well, if it still doesn’t bewilder you, then you must remember how phone calls worked a mere couple of decades ago. Yes, these required connecting cables into the correct hole to help the call go through. This was done by the switchboard operator, who could listen to every conversation! Forget about the lack of efficiency, what an invasion of privacy that was!

#4. Human-Computer

This profession is closely related to the last one, as a matter of fact. The premise is pretty easy: no cellphones, no laptops, no computers. None whatsoever. Without the possibility of doing complex operations and calculations in a couple of seconds, this job was really important.

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Yes, important, but extremely tedious too. Working as a human-computer meant that you had to spend several hours crunching numbers. Luckily many math experts did this job with proficiency because otherwise many scientific programs such as NASA and their missions would have been unimaginable.

#3. Lamp Lighters

Can you imagine a world without electricity? With our 24/7 connected lifestyle of today, it’s a difficult thing to picture. For instance, nightfall meant going back to your house immediately to stay away from danger. This was the case until streetlights started being used.

Photo: Courtesy of Daily Mail.

But how did these work without electricity, one might wonder? Actually, a candle was placed inside each lamp. This implied that someone had to replace the worn-out candles every evening, and this was exactly what the lamp-lighters did.

#2. Pinsetter

There’s no other plan like a bowling match with your friends. This is especially correct if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like demanding sports: bowling doesn’t require too much moving around and it’s incredibly entertaining, even if you’re terrible at it.

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Well, this used to be a slower activity in the past. While the pins which your shot knocks down are automatically replaced by the machine now, a pinsetter had to achieve this before. A pinsetter had to return the ball to the player too, and quickly, or else the match would be delayed.

#1. Town Crier

Incredibly enough, there was a time where mass media didn’t exist. Nope, not even small, local newspapers. No Facebook or Twitter either. But important stuff still occurred every day, and people wanted to be aware of the latest events and gossip, obviously.

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So how was the news spread out? Easy, a town crier would simply roam through the streets, shouting the news at full volume. This may seem like a fun job, but it implied a lot of responsibility as well. Town criers announced verdicts, crimes, royal orders… basically everything!

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