Industry changes: Jobs now obsolete

As technology progresses the demands for certain kinds of jobs change. Over the past century society has seen a dramatic shift in innovative progress and as a result entire professions have gone extinct as computers and automated machinery now perform many of the jobs that once required humans to do.

Today many of these occupations are not only almost, if not completely, extinct, but chances are the current generations have never even heard of some these professions. Yet at one time these jobs were pretty necessary and/or desired to fulfill a need society had. Here's a look at some jobs that have become obsolete over the years:


Decades ago people didn't run to the grocery or local
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convenience store when they ran out of milk, it was delivered to their home by the milkman. This occupation isn't completely obsolete, as it is reported on it is making a slight comeback, but chances are most people will continue to pick up milk on their way home rather than hire a delivery service.


Before electric freezers and refrigerators became standard, people used to keep their food fresh with ice placed in iceboxes. The iceman would deliver requested amounts of ice to households on a regular basis (the ice often came from frozen bodies of water up north). With so many different appliances on the market, people these days make their own ice if its needed.

Elevator operator

Before elevators were programmed how to start/stop with the push of a button, elevator operators would run the elevators, decide what order floors would be stopped and align the elevator with the floor so riders could exit safely. This job isn't completely gone yet, as some older buildings still require one, however it is rare to see an elevator operator as the norm in most multi-floored buildings.


Lectors were hired individuals who would sit and read to cigar makers who would pool money together to read to them. Politics were often a popular subject, but lectors would read on various topics to help workers pass the time. In some countries, such as Cuba, lectors are still employed today, but this is not a profession one would find in the United States.


Once a need, today lamplighters are unheard of. What these workers did was carry tall ladders and lanterns (or matches) to light the gas lamps on the street. Workers had their own routes they were responsible to ensure street lamps were lit. As technology progressed and electronic devices were created to ignite the gas lamps, this job phased out decades ago, even before electricity became standard.

Copy boy

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Copy boys were essentially errand runners who worked in the news industry to shuffle paper back and forth. They'd collect mimeographed reports coming off the news wire and then sort them into the appropriate categories; once this was completed they'd deliver them to the appropriate recipients. Once a reporter was finished the copy boys would collect the documents and deliver to the next person in the editorial process. Today, with automation, this job is long past its time. Humans cannot compete with the speed of email, texts or instant messages.


Bowling has been a popular pastime for many years, but before automated pinsetters were created, a person had to physically reset the pins each time the bowling ball was sent down the alley. Workers, usually teens, would wait in the gutters until the ball hit the pins and then they'd set the pins up again.

River driver

River drivers were employed by lumber companies who hired individuals to be responsible for floating logs down the river without hazard. They were paid to remove obstructions and release any logs that may have gotten caught during the floating process. Today these jobs are unheard of as lumber companies have upgraded their delivery processes.

Switchboard operator

Switchboard operators were a necessity for about a
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full century. Operators would sit at large boards and connect telephone calls with wires and pegs. What's interesting about this occupation is young men were originally the operators, but after too many pranks were pulled, companies began to hire women and it became a female-dominated workforce. This position was phased out after the 1980s as the telephone industry updated with newer technologies.

Typists in typing pools

A job gone extinct more recently, typist pools were a common staple in most offices and organizations for decades. What this entailed was a group of people (usually women) who took on typing correspondences for an organization and split up the work.

As computer processing programs became more the norm, the typist pools began to be phased out. However, they were still in existence in the 1980s and early 1990s in some agencies. Today you'd probably be hard-pressed to find one


Not completely obsolete yet, but at the same time hardly heard of, typesetters were once the norm. What these jobs entailed was physically laying out the types including size, font and style into frames. Once upon a time typesetters were a necessity for the news and publishing industries.

Telegraph operator

No longer really needed in today's society, telegraph operators were once a pretty necessary job. Operators would use Morse and other telegraph codes to send and receive messages through electric circuits. The shipping and rail industries used this means of communication extensively for both operational and personal purposes.

On the endangered list

Many jobs are still viable, but are considered to be on the endangered list or at least projected to have a big decline. This list includes reporters and correspondents, floral designers, postmasters, mail superintendents, postal clerks, mail carriers, mail sorters, farm workers, agriculture workers and sewing machine operators. Based on the number of mail-related jobs, it appears this industry is going to be hard hit in the next few years.

It is interesting to see how careers and job opportunities evolve over the decades. Today's hot careers that are created due to technology are likely to perhaps someday become obsolete jobs as well. Hard to imagine, but then again, a century ago no one would have probably imagined that a lamplighter would no longer be needed.


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