Friday Fun: The Jobs Of Yesteryear: Obsolete Occupations

Mar 26 2010 Published by under acad lib future, friday fun

Interesting little slideshow article, one that makes you think about the transformation we've seen in the last century or so: The Jobs Of Yesteryear: Obsolete Occupations.

Here's the list -- note that each page in the slideshow has an audio interview with someone that used to do the job in question.

  • Lector (reads aloud to people while they're working)
  • Elevator Operator
  • Copy Boy
  • Pinsetter (sets up pins in bowling alley)
  • River Driver (logging)
  • Iceman
  • lamplighter (Manually lights street lamps)
  • Milkman
  • Switchboard Operator
  • Typist In A Typist Pool
  • Typesetter
  • Telegraph Operator

Actually, lectors aren't such a bad idea, even in modern workplaces.

I wonder what's going appear on a similar list in even 10 or 15 years?

(via David Rothman on Friendfeed.)

11 responses so far

  • Terry Wilson says:

    I recall, within the past week I think, a BBC prog about a business in Cuba(? - memory goes with age!) where there was a lector. She was reading to the workers full time.

  • John Dupuis says:


    Interestingly, in the link they do mention that the job is still being done in many places in Cuba...which makes you wonder if it still qualifies as obsolete in the same way as some of the others do. In fact, a few of the jobs they mention (like milkman) are really "small niche" rather than actually obsolete.

    And here's the linkM to the story by the BBC, which I found in the comments for the BoingBoing story on this article.

  • QD says:

    Actually, lectors aren't such a bad idea, even in modern workplaces.

    Depends on what you are doing. I'm in engineering, and I have invested a lot in noise canceling head phones and audio equipment to block out external distractions.

    Caveat lector, 'cause I'll make you eat that book. 😉

  • John Dupuis says:

    Yeah, QD, YMMV.

    BTW, do you prefer total silence or is there a type of music that helps you block out distractions?

  • David says:

    My ex-father-in-law was a pinsetter when he was young.

    I was in an elevator that required an operator just a couple of months ago. I was staying at the Gladstone in Toronto, and it has the original elevator, which still demands an operator.

  • John Dupuis says:

    I remember using an old fashioned elevator with an operator a couple of years ago in New York. It was to get to a used bookstore on an upper floor of an old building. It was a weird flash to the past.

  • doug l says:

    The repair and service of office business machinery. Comptometer repair, typewriter repair, or mechanical calculating machine repair. At one time these machines were vital to conducting everything from finance to civil engineering. Electro mechanical calculators, the ones with all the buttons, could be as dense and complex as a swiss watch, the size of laundry basket, weigh 6 pounds and cost more than a sports car. Any city of any size might have dozens of companies that sold and serviced these instruments.
    They're mostly landfill now; the machines and their operators.

  • Janne says:

    Departments stores in Japan frequently have elevator operators; they act as information desks and general customer contacts as well so it's not as wasteful as it may seem.

    And there's icemen of a sort here too: ice shops selling by the block to bars and restaurants.

  • Chuck says:

    Oberweis dairy offers home milk delivery in certain cities, so "milkman" isn't quite dead yet. I know at least two people who get home delivery of milk from them.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your stories.

  • Passerby says:

    Rapidly disappearing or long gone:

    Ice delivery trucks. Once home refrigeration made its entrance in the first 2-3 decades of the 20th century, this service rapidly became obsolete, along with soda-water delivery. There has been an interesting upsurge in home delivery of bottled water, however.

    Gas pump attendants at service stations (except in states like Oregon, where you may not legally pump your own gas).

    Grocery store baggers, and eventually, checkers, as automated stations become more widely employed by large retailers.

    Milkmen/dairy and bakery home deliverymen. These residential truck-route delivery men used to provide a high-value specialty service for suburban residents in the mid-20th century, removing the need for frequent trips to the local grocery store for perishables like milk, eggs and bread. Homes used to have a 'milk chute' next to a side or back door that was lockable from the inside, to allow pre-ordered goods to be left and payment envelop with next weeks order to be collected by the deliverymen.

    Ice Cream Truck Drivers.

    The Fuller Brush Men. Before Walmart, K-Mart and other large big box retailers of sundries, the Fuller Brush Man was the 'go-to' for domestic cleaning supplies.

    Window Washers.

    Garbage Men. Trucks are now mechanized, with a single driver. You almost never see manhandling when collecting garbage cans.

    Shoeshine Boys and Men. Few people wear shoes that require polishing. Shoe Repair shops are also falling by the wayside, as shoes are treated as disposable or are made of man-made materials that aren't repairable.

    Tailors. Very rare breed; bespoke clothing ceased to be tradition except for the wealthy in a few cities.

    Paperboys. Paper delivery from major newspapers is now made through the mail in many cities.

    I'm sure I've missed some, but it was fun to ponder the many service jobs of yesteryear that have vanished.

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