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A tough job, but NOBODY has to do it…


While there’s been no lack of pearl clutching over the threat artificial intelligence plays to certain careers, the fact is modernization has been making certain jobs obsolete since the earliest days of industrialization. The pattern is familiar: A need exists, an occupation is created to meet the need, a product is invented that does it faster and cheaper, occupation no longer exists. Rinse, repeat.

While cyborgs locking their sites on our various hard-learned skill sets is no laughing matter, there have been times throughout history when technology has faded out certain careers—and humanity has gotten along just fine despite it all. Here are 9 examples:

Pinsetter: In the 19th century, boys were hired to reset pins after every turn at a bowling alley—lucky for them “bumpers” weren’t invented yet. Rendered obsolete by: Mechanized pinspotter machine in 1930s.

Knocker upper: Easy, fellahs, it’s not how it sounds. The knocker up was a 19th century British worker who would tap on windows to wake people up for work. Rendered obsolete by: Alarm clocks.

Leech collector: Back in the days when bloodletting was a popular cure-all, leech collectors would lead a horse into a swamp and pry off the fresh leeches from the horse’s legs. Those who didn’t own a horse used their own legs. Rendered obsolete by: Advent of scientific medicine.

Resurrectionist: As Mary Shelley acolytes will appreciate, resurrectionists in 18th century England would dig corpses out of freshly filled graves and sell them to medical schools. Rendered obsolete by: Scientific medicine’s shift to using fresh pauper corpses instead. (No one said societal “advancements” are always a net gain, folks.)

Computer: In the early 20th century, women (mostly) would crunch numbers by hand. Rendered obsolete by: Actual computers.

Lector: To mitigate the mind-numbing boredom for 19th century factory workers, a lector would stand on a platform and read aloud from newspapers and other written materials. (See also: Town crier) Rendered obsolete by: Radio

Ice cutter: Up through the early 20th century, men would cut tons of ice from frozen lakes and send it around the country on trains. Rendered obsolete by: Refrigeration.

Elevator operator: Early elevators used to be run by a person operating a lever, to stop the elevator at the correct floor. Rendered obsolete by: Buttons.

Encyclopedia Salesperson: Hawking the old Brittanica volumes—with convenient monthly installments!—was a staple on the door-to-door sales scene up through the 1990s. Rendered obsolete by: Wikipedia, internet, et al.


Here are 8 classic American jobs you may not even realize are now all-but obsolete.


Paper boy/girl

Drive-thru bank teller

Soda jerk

Full-service gas pumper

Video store geek


Bridge toll collector

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