20 Professions From the 20th Century That No Longer Exist

When's the last time you saw a milkman?

While technology has added countless jobs to the workforce over the past century, from network administrators to the Insta-famous, it's also made a host of professions obsolete along the way. According to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, by 2030, more than 800 million people will lose their jobs to automation. However, long before cashiers and toll collectors went the way of the dinosaur, these professions were on the chopping block.

From dangerous careers you won't believe ever existed to those we miss already, these jobs from the 20th century that don't exist anymore might just have you feeling a bit nostalgic. And when you want more proof of just how far we've come, just check out these 20 Home Appliances That Didn't Exist When You Were Young!

Switchboard Operator

Switchboard operator obsolete jobs

In the early to mid-20th century, if you wanted to get in touch with someone on the phone, a switchboard operator was the person to help you do it. Switchboard operators were essential whenever you wanted to make a call, connecting one caller through the central office to the party they were trying to reach via a network of manual plugs. While this profession may seem antiquated, switchboard operators were actually in use well into the 1960s. And when you want to advance your career, start by removing these 20 Subtly Sexist Things People Say at Work from your vocabulary.


alarm clock how to sleep better

Think your alarm clock waking you up in the morning is annoying? Now imagine it was an actual guy knocking on your window, telling you to get out of bed. Knocker-uppers, or knocker-ups, served the sole purpose of getting people out of bed in the morning, and did so well into the 1950s. And when you want to take your career to the next level, check out The 25 Best Ways to Score a Promotion!

Leech Collector

Leech collector obsolete jobs

Back in the 19th and 20th centuries, you could earn an honest day's pay with only a little bit of blood loss as a leech collector. Leech collectors would go out into bodies of water inhabited by leeches and gather them, selling them to doctors and hospitals for bloodletting treatments. Unfortunately, the use of their body as bait often led to infections and other bodily harm, and the profession has since died out.

However, leeches are still used in some medical practices today—we just don't send people out into swamps to gather them anymore. Ready for a change of pace? Make sure you're armed with these 6 Secret Weapons for Turning the Job You Have Into the One You Want.

VCR Repairman

Obsolete, VCR

If you grew up in the latter part of the 20th century, you probably remember the pain of getting your favorite videotape stuck in your VCR. Enter: the VCR repairman, who could save that Fraggle Rock video and your VCR in the process. But with the rise of DVDs and streaming services, you'd be hard-pressed to find a VCR tech today. Think VCRs are frustrating? They've got nothing on the 30 Worst Home Appliances Ever Created.

Ice Cutter


Ice cutters used to risk their lives by going out on bodies of water and removing blocks of ice with handsaws or power saws, which would later be sold to keep food cold. And when you're ready to move up to a more fulfilling position, This Is the Fastest Way to Get Promoted!

Video Store Employee

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Netflix is undeniably great, but we often forget the jobs it all but eliminated: those of video store clerks. While a few Blockbusters remain—one in Oregon and a few in Alaska—what used to be an industry is little more than a nostalgic novelty today. Is your job on the verge of obsolescence? Find out The Single Best Way to Survive a Layoff.


Lamp lighter obsolete jobs

Before electric street lights were common, it was the job of a lamplighter to keep the streets illuminated in the evenings. Using a long pole with a wick at one end, lamplighters would light the oil or candles used in street lamps, returning to snuff them again in the morning. Today, it's virtually impossible to find a lamplighter working full-time in any major city, particularly in the United States. And when you want to turn your work life around for good, start with the 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career!


cats like milk but are often lactose intolerant

Today, there are 12 different kinds of milk available at virtually any grocery store you walk into. Fifty years ago, there was just the one type, delivered to your door by a milkman. Considering that Americans are drinking, on average, a gallon of milk less per month than they did 50 years ago, it's no wonder milk delivery has lost some of its appeal. And if you think your job is bad? Just wait until you see the 30 Craziest Corporate Policies Employees Must Follow.

Rat Catcher

Rat catcher obsolete jobs

Before the advent of modern rodenticide, you could find reliable work catching rats. Rat catchers were popular throughout Europe during the time of the Black Plague and were still employed around the world through the early part of the 20th century. And when you're ready for a more fulfilling career, make sure you know The Secret Trick for Getting Your Résumé Noticed.

Dictaphone Operator

Dictaphone operator obsolete jobs

Today, we have tiny devices in our homes that can write our grocery lists for us if we do no more than ask them to. However, from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, dictation was handled by Dictaphone operators. Ready to make a career leap of your own? Check out these 25 Work from Home Jobs with High Salaries!

Log Drivers

Log driver obsolete jobs

While navigating around an 18-wheeler carrying timber on the highway may be a pain, those trucks are a major improvement over the logging industry's previous practices. Case in point: until the 1970s, log driving was one of the preferred methods of moving lumber from place to place, with men riding logs down river as a means of getting them to mills. Unfortunately, the practice was extremely dangerous, with countless log drivers losing their lives on the job.

Radio Actor

queen Elizabeth's wedding was radio broadcast to millions

Today, we listen to podcasts. Throughout the 20th century, however, millions tuned into radio dramas, catching their favorite actors play out the serials that were so popular at the time. And while some radio enthusiasts are trying to bring the format back, the number of actors who can make a living in this line of work today is likely zero.


Typesetter obsolete jobs

Before the printing industry was digitized, all those stories had to be hand-set by a typesetter before going to print. Considering that print newspaper subscriptions have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1940s, according to the Pew Research Center, it looks as though print papers may not be long for this world, either.

Cigarette Girl

cigarettes in ashtray

The good news: rates of cigarette smoking have dropped to all-time lows around the world. The bad news? That means the cigarette girl, a woman who sold cigarettes from a box around her neck, once a regular part of the nightlife experience in the early- to mid-20th century, is a thing of the past.

Elevator Operator

elevator etiquette hodor

With the rise of push-button elevators, we've seen the inevitable decline of the elevator operator, whose sole job was manually operating elevators and letting passengers on and off at their desired floors. While you may still occasionally see them as a novelty in some buildings, elevator operators have all but disappeared.


Pinsetter obsolete jobs

Today, whether you bowled a gutter ball or a strike, those pins will be inevitably swept away by an automated machine. However, throughout the 20th century, before the advent of automation, it was a pinsetter's job to manually clear and replace bowling pins and make sure bowling balls got back to their rightful owner after a frame.


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Your workplace may allow you to listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook, but throughout the 20th century there were people whose sole job it was to read to workers. Lectors were often employed by factories to read either newspapers to workers as they toiled away in an attempt to educate them and provide them a diversion during the workday.

Clock Winder

grandfather clock office

Before the invention of electric clock winders, the job was frequently done manually by a dedicated clock winder. While this job has all but been eliminated, there's one notable exception: just five years ago, Big Ben was hiring a clock winder. The going rate? Just north of $50,000 per year.

Film Projectionist

Projectionist obsolete jobs

As most movie theaters switch to digital projectors, the role of the film projectionist is largely obsolete. While some projectionists' roles within the movie theater have changed to include programming and management, you'd likely have trouble finding anyone who's still professionally projecting 35mm film today.


Computer obsolete jobs

Today, a laptop computer can weigh as little as a hardback book. However, throughout the 20th century, it took an entire human being—or sometimes a team of them—to generate the power in one of these tiny machines many of us take for granted today.

During World War II, so-called human computers were used to perform complex mathematical equations. Human computers were also used by NASA in the mid-1900s, as depicted in the book Hidden Figures and the movie of the same name. Think that's a wild career? Wait until you see these 15 Ridiculous Jobs So Useless You Won't Believe They Exist!

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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