24 Jobs That No Longer Exist

Switchboard operators, circa 1936.
Switchboard operators, circa 1936.
William Vanderson, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Many jobs that were commonplace in the past are non-existent on resumes today. Some disappeared thanks to advancing technology, while some undesirable and dangerous professions were phased out due to improved labor laws. The jobs on this list were once solid options for a paycheck, and they either no longer exist—or are on the verge of disappearing entirely.


Ministry of Information dispatch riders on their motorbikes, circa 1940.
Ministry of Information dispatch riders on their motorbikes, circa 1940.
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Dispatch riders were motorcyclists from World War I and World War II who delivered urgent messages between militaries. Wartime radio transmissions were subject to being unstable and prone to interception at the time, so quick and reliable motorcycle couriers were preferred during these pressing situations.


A soda jerk serves sweet drinks at a drugstore's soda fountain in 1950.
A soda jerk serves sweet drinks at a drugstore's soda fountain in 1950.
Doreen Spooner, Keystone Features/Getty Images

A job as a soda jerk was ideal for many young people during the 20th century. Youths could often be found handling soda spigots while wearing bow ties and white paper hats as they served up ice cream and soda drinks to order. Competition from fast food restaurants and drive-ins aided in the disappearance of the traditional soda jerk, but today there are many restaurants trying to offer their own spin on the beloved drugstore clerks.


An herb garden, circa 1533.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The 1600s weren't known for being an exceptionally clean time in human history. To combat the lack of hygiene, herb strewers were appointed to spread herbs and flowers throughout royal family residences to mask the scent of repulsive odors. Plants like basil, lavender, chamomile, and roses were regularly used by herb strewers.


Door-to-door salesman in 1951.
H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS, ClassicStock/Alamy Stock Photo

In the 18th and 19th centuries, some booksellers traveled door to door rather than setting up a brick-and-mortar location. Book peddlers would carry samples of the books and illustrations they offered to promote their products. They were often met with positive feedback, unlike other door-to-door salesmen at the time (of, say, sewing machines and snake oil-like pharmaceuticals). In fact, several states passed laws to prevent soliciting, but book peddlers were often an exception. Today, a few companies still try the door-to-door approach, but concerned residents do not view the cold-calls as positively as in years past.


Jabcz Hogg photographing W S Johnston in the first known image of a photographer at work, circa 1843.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The Daguerreotype was the first form of the camera available to the public. It was immensely popular throughout the mid-19th century and captured portraits of many celebrities and politicians of the time, like Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass. Daguerreotypists were responsible for capturing photos with their cameras and developing them through a chemical process. Eventually new, cheaper processes were introduced, rendering daguerreotypists obsolete.


A French telegraphist in 1917, during World War I.
A French telegraphist in 1917, during World War I.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During the telegraph's prime, wartime demand and high salaries made jobs as telegraph operators desirable. Telegraphists were also needed for dispatching between the mainland and those at sea. As forms of communication evolved, the telegraph and Morse code became outdated, but the quick relaying of information brought about by this invention immensely impacted human communication methods as we know them.


A medical consultation, circa 1807.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

You might not find job listings for toad doctors today, but back in the 19th century, the sick in England regularly relied on this folk magic. Patients with scrofula were said to be cured after wearing a toad (either living or dead) in a muslin bag around their neck.


Child pinsetters working in a bowling alley in Brooklyn, New York in 1910.
Pinsetters working in a bowling alley in Brooklyn, New York in 1910.
Lewis Wickes Hine, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Before automated pin retrieval and set-up machines were invented, someone needed to remove and replace pins at bowling alleys between each turn. These pinsetters (often referred to as pin boys because of the young boys typically employed) would hang out at the end of the lanes and manually reset the pins. As with many rote, manual jobs, when automatic pinsetters began appearing in the first half of the 20th century, the bulk of these paid positions disappeared.


An Indian water carrier or
An Indian water carrier or "bhisti," circa 1870.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Water carriers (literally, people carrying buckets or bags of water from water sources to residents) had centuries of job security, but as indoor plumbing became popular in the West, this job began disappearing—a pattern that's still spreading to the rest of the world. In 2015, the BBC interviewed a traditional water carrier in India who recalled that even 30 years ago there were hundreds doing that job; he was the last one in his area and singled out the availability of tap water as making the job unviable. And in 2017, the South African network News24 talked to a water carrier from Madagascar who said that in a day she might haul 800 liters of water and earn $1.20.


Cavalry in 1800.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Cavalrymen are more often thought of as soldiers riding on horseback, but they've also ridden camels and elephants throughout history as well. Fighting by cavalry was a tactical method that gave soldiers enhanced mobility, height, and speed. World War I and World War II were the last major conflicts that relied on cavalrymen. Instead, today's warfare relies on the technology of armored vehicles, aircraft, and modern weapons, though as the recent film 12 Strong dramatized, soldiers and horses do still find themselves working together in many parts of the world.


Eva Duarte (center, in 1944) made her name as a radio actress before marrying Juan Perón and becoming the First Lady of Argentina.
Eva Duarte (center, in 1944) made her name as a radio actress before marrying Juan Perón and becoming the First Lady of Argentina.
Keystone, Getty Images

Radio drama was a leading form of entertainment between the 1920s and the 1950s. Being an audio format forced listeners to rely on music, sound effects, and dialogue to imagine the story being broadcasted. The rise of television brought an end to radio drama and the careers of radio actors, at least in America. In some parts of the world they remain popular, and the rise of podcasts has sparked new interest in audio dramas.


A knocker-up in London in 1929.
A knocker-up in London in 1929.
J. Gaiger, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Even if you hate your alarm, waking up to the beeping of a clock sounds appealing compared to paying a knocker-up to rap on your home. During the Industrial Revolution, people were paid to wake clients up for work by knocking on their doors and windows with sticks. Knocker-ups were mostly found in Britain and Ireland, but as alarm clocks became more accessible, the job was eventually put on permanent snooze—though it did hold on in some parts of Britain until the 1970s.


Early "human computers" at NASA.
Science History Images, Alamy Stock Photo

Long before laptops and PCs, people were employed as computers. These jobs were often held by women who worked in teams to figure out lengthy mathematical calculations. Human computers solved problems ranging from astronomy to trigonometry, but as to be expected, these jobs have been replaced by the computers we use today.


A clockkeeper works on London's Big Ben in 1957.
A clockkeeper works on London's Big Ben in 1957.
Frank Martin, BIPs/Getty Images

Throughout history, the job of a clockkeeper has evolved along with technology. In its early existence, the job involved ringing a large, centralized bell several times a day. Later, when the mechanical clock was invented, winding and upkeep of the city's clocks were necessary tasks to ensure accuracy. Nowadays, clockkeepers are nowhere near as important as they once were, but as The Turret Clock Keeper's Handbook [PDF] explains, "those who care for a turret clock will well know just how highly it is regarded in a local community not only for its grace in adorning a building but also for its timekeeping and its job of sounding the hours—despite all those quartz watches."


A projectionist in a town cinema, circa 1930.
A projectionist in a town cinema, circa 1930.
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

Another profession that has been fading out of existence is that of a film projectionist. Using film to project movies in theaters is becoming a rarity now, so there aren't many people who know how to work with film anymore. Having a film projector has become prohibitively expensive, and with the rise of digital projection, the act of spooling canisters of filmstrips is a dying art.


Young boys working the troughs in the mines of South Wales, circa 1910.
Young boys working the troughs in the mines of South Wales, circa 1910.
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

To separate impurities from coal, American coal breakers relied on breaker boys who ranged in age from 8 to 12. This job was often labor-intensive, and the public argued against letting children work in these conditions—but child labor laws were continuously ignored. This continued into the early 1920s until child labor laws began to be more strictly enforced and coal separation technology improved.


John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792) and British Prime Minister (1762-1763), served as one of Prince Frederick's lords of the bedchamber and became a privy councillor and groom of the stole for George III.
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792) and British Prime Minister (1762-1763), served as one of Prince Frederick's lords of the bedchamber and became a privy councillor and groom of the stole for George III.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Everybody poops—even the former kings of England. These royals just happened to have an advisor, or a Groom of the Stool, to aid them in the process. Though it might sound like a crappy job, the position grew to be powerful and respected within the royal court since kings were known to confide in their Groom of the Stool. The position fell out of service with the rise of Elizabeth I, since the particular title was only extended to male monarchs (Elizabeth I had a comparable Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, as well as plenty of ladies-in-waiting and chambermaids at her beck and call). With King James I the position was revived and eventually became known as the Groom of the Stole. And although Queen Victoria's son, as prince, had a Groom of the Stole, the title did not continue into his reign.


A sound mirror that was built into the cliffs of Dover, England during the first world war.
A sound mirror that was built into the cliffs of Dover, England during the first world war.
LEON NEAL, AFP/Getty Images

The invention of radar technology vastly changed the way that militaries use air defense. Before World War II, the United Kingdom enlisted aircraft listeners. Men in this position would use concrete mirrors to detect the sound of enemy aircraft engines. The acoustic mirrors may have been effective in picking up sound, but they often fell short because enemy airplanes were too close to take preventative action by the time they were heard. Several of these acoustic mirrors have been restored as monuments.


Two lift operators in a London department store, circa 1916.
Two lift operators in a London department store, circa 1916.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The passenger-operated elevators that we have today are very simple compared to their manual predecessors that needed to have a trained operator. Instead of buttons, older elevators had a lever that would regulate their speed, and the driver would need to be able to land on the right floor. While there are still elevator operators around today, their job is much more focused on security.


A town crier in Wales, circa 1938.
A town crier in Wales, circa 1938.
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Town criers were responsible for publicizing court orders, usually by way of shouting in the street so that everyone in the area was able to hear of the news. In order to gain attention, they'd shout "Oyez"—meaning "hear ye"—and ring a large handheld bell. In England they were known to wear ornate clothing and tricorne hats. Town criers may be disappearing from the payroll, but some can still be found competing with one another or announcing royal births in an unofficial capacity.


An iceman delivers blocks of ice in 1932.
An iceman delivers blocks of ice in 1932.
Francis M.R.Hudson, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Prior to the invention of refrigeration and freezers, people relied on large blocks of ice to keep their food and drinks cool. After letting a foot of ice build up on a body of water, ice cutters were charged with finding, cutting, and handling the slabs for delivery. The job put men at risk in the cold weather and freezing waters; as technology advanced, it was no longer necessary. Today, there are occasional attempts to mine glaciers for "artisanal ice cubes," but the job also clings on in an unlikely place—making ice hotels.


A boy carrying a torch through the London fog.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In London during the Middle Ages, link-boys could be found carrying torches along the streets at night. Some were privately employed, while others offered their lighting to pedestrians in exchange for a small fee. As streetlights became more widespread, the illuminating duties of link-boys became a thing of the past.


Switchboard operators at the Manchester Telephone Exchange, circa 1900.
Switchboard operators at the Manchester Telephone Exchange, circa 1900.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the early years of telephones, operators would have to connect callers to each other via a switchboard. This machine had circuits that would light up when a telephone receiver was lifted, and the switchboard operator would then physically connect the lines so people could talk. The profession became outdated once telephone technology advanced to the point that people could dial and receive calls without the middleman. Today the job ostensibly lives on (the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 80,000 people were switchboard operators in May 2017), but it's now more a customer service role to make sure callers reach the right department.


A vivandiere, a female soldier selling provisions and spirits, with the Allied forces during the Crimean War.
A vivandiére with the Allied forces during the Crimean War, circa mid-1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Women, called vivandières, served alongside the French army in wars like the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the term even popped up during the American Civil War. Vivandières would follow troops, tend to wounds, sew, cook food, and carry canteens for the soldiers—they were essentially mobile medics and maids, but the positions were considered ones of honor and service. The French War Ministry fully disbanded vivandières in the early 1900s before World War I.

Get Into the Halloween Spirit With Harry Potter and Star Wars Costumes and Accessories From Hot Topic

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

Halloween is fast approaching, and that means it's time to start picking up those decorations, planning your costume, and settling down for a few monster movie marathons. Hot Topic is already way ahead of you, with a selection of costumes and accessories based on fan-favorite movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Stranger Things, and Hocus Pocus. We've picked out some of our favorites for you to check out below.

Harry Potter

1. Beauxbatons Hat and Cape Uniform; $60

Hot Topic

If Fleur Delacour is your favorite character from the Triwizard Tournament, then this look is for you. Beauxbatons baby blue hat and cape can now be yours to prance around in and pretend you're from the magical French academy for young witches.

Buy it: Beauxbatons Hat, Beauxbatons Cape

2. Hogwarts Zip-Up Hoodie Cloak; $55

Hot Topic

One of the most iconic parts of the Hogwarts uniform is the cloak. The sweeping black robes looked so official and mystical in the movies that it almost seems wrong not to wear one if you want to be a Hogwarts student for Halloween. These hoodie cloaks are available in all four house colors.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Hogwarts Cardigan Sweater; $49

Hot Topic

Much like the cloak, the sweater vests and cardigans the students at Hogwarts got to wear are essential to any costume. You can choose from the four house crests and colors, so you can show your allegiance while also making a fashion statement.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Hogwarts Plaid Skirtall; $45

Hot Topic

Though this isn't a look you'd recognize from the Harry Potter movies, these plaid skirtalls—skirt overalls, basically—feature the crest and colors of whichever house you represent.

Buy it: Hot Topic

Star Wars

1. The Mandalorian Helmet; $17

Hot Topic

With the second season of The Mandalorian coming out right in time for Halloween, going as one of the show's main characters is a no-brainer. And since you probably can't pull off the Baby Yoda look, this simple Mando helmet is your best option.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Yoda Pet Costume; $20

Hot Topic

Baby Yoda is easily the cutest thing to emerge from the new Disney+ series, and there's no shortage of merchandise with that little green face plastered across it. From Amazon Echo Dots to slippers to LEGO sets, the little rascal is everywhere. But if you're more a fan of classic Yoda, you can impose your love of the character on your dog with this costume, complete with floppy green ears and tiny Jedi robe.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Force Awakens Rey Costume; $48

Hot Topic

Rey represents a new generation of Star Wars hero, and her costume during her time on Jakku from The Force Awakens is still her most iconic look. It's also a costume that's simple enough to throw on for Halloween and still feel comfortable in.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. R2-D2 with Pumpkin Decoration; $50

Hot Topic

When trick-or-treaters stop to collect candy from your house, greet them with this inflatable R2-D2 decoration that's primed for Halloween. Standing around 3 feet tall, this will show off your love for a galaxy far, far away and your holiday spirit.

Buy it: Hot Topic

The Nightmare Before Christmas

1. Sally Scrunchies Set; $10

Hot Topic

If you're looking to embrace your The Nightmare Before Christmas love in a more subtle way, opt for these Sally-approved scrunchies that embody the colors of the movie without going too far overboard.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Jack Skellington Button-Up Shirt; $35

Hot Topic

If Jack Skellington is your ultimate fashion hero, then this button-up pinstriped shirt is the ticket for you. It mimics Jack's look right down to the unique bat-shaped collar.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Jack and Sally 'Love is Eternal' Eyeshadow Palette; $17

Hot Topic

Makeup inspired by your favorite characters is the key to completing a Halloween look, and this palette will help you make a colorful, smokey eye featuring shades seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas. You can even use these colors long after Halloween is over once you've mastered your favorite style.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Zero Dog Costume; $29

Hot Topic

The real star of The Nightmare Before Christmas has to be the dog, Zero, and now you can drape your own pooch in the ghostly visage for under $30.

Buy it: Hop Topic

Other Categories

- Stranger Things
- Coraline
- Disney
- Haunted Mansion
- Hocus Pocus
- The Craft

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30 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate In October

Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

October—the spookiest month of the year—is upon, and with it, a calendar full of offbeat holidays. Between your autumnal walks, horror movie marathons, and oh, National Cat Day on October 29 (which is basically the year's most important holiday here at Mental Floss), see if you can squeeze in a few of these unconventional celebrations.

1. October 1: World Vegetarian Day

It's easy enough to eat meat-free for a day, but this celebration is intended to kick off a month of vegetarian awareness and encourage more lasting change.

2. October 2: World Farm Animals Day

RubyMirriam/iStock via Getty Images

This may seem at odds with World Vegetarian Day, until you consider that this is actually a day to protest the farm in farm animal and the cruel conditions it implies.

3. October 2: National Custodian Day

Because really, we should be celebrating them every day.

4. October 2: World Smile Day

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If the calendar says you have to do it, you have to do it.

5. October 4: Ten-Four Day

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The fourth day of the 10th month of the year is the day the world celebrates radio operators, to which we say, “Ten-Four.”

6. October 4: National Ships-In-Bottles Day

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Someone spent a lot of time making this art happen, so let's take a little time to appreciate it.

7. October 8: National Pierogi Day

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On this day in 1952, pierogies were first delivered to a grocery store in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and we’ve been devouring them ever since.

8. October 10: National Handbag Day

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We carry them around, but in many ways, it’s the handbags that carry us.

9. October 10: National Cake Decorating Day

Making a boxed cake recipe and applying the frosting with a butter knife definitely counts.

10. October 11: Southern Food Heritage Day

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Sorry, but if you're not eating a plate of chicken and waffles like the one above (or something equally Southern) on October 11, you're doing it wrong.

11. October 14: International Top Spinning Day

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A good day to head to the toy store and take a spin.

12. October 15: National Grouch Day

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For those who love one, and those who are one.

13. October 15: Get Smart About Credit Day

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This American Bankers Association holiday is all about educating the public on credit—and if that stresses you out, you should probably be observing this quirky commemoration.

14. October 16: Dictionary Day

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October 16th is Noah Webster’s birthday, so take a break from your lackadaisical use of the English language, k?

15. October 17: Sweetest Day

Traditionally celebrated in the Midwest and Northeastern United States, Sweetest Day is a lot like Valentine's Day, which—depending on your outlook—is either a very good thing or a very bad thing.

16. October 19: Evaluate Your Life Day

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It’s time.

17. October 21: Hagfish Day

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These eel-shaped, slime-producing fish are fairly disgusting (seriously), but they're also kind of awesome. They have four hearts, have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and can feed through their skin. So while it might not be beautiful, the humble hagfish does deserve a little love and respect.

18. October 22: Smart Is Cool Day

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This is one that holiday that Mental Floss HQ can really get behind.

19. October 23: National Mole Day

Neither a tribute to the animal, nor a skin feature, nor an undercover spy, Mole Day honors Avogadro's Number, which is a basic measuring unit in chemistry.

20. October 23: Canning Day

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Nicolas Appert—the inventor of hermetically sealed food preservation and the "father of canning"—was born around this time circa 1750, and this day celebrates all things that come in jars. So, you know, put a lid on it.

21. October 25: Mother-in-Law Day

Unfortunately, this comes after National Forgiveness Day, so if you forget to give her a call it might be a long year before she forgives you.

22. October 26: National Mule Day

Now that you’ve celebrated moles, give a tip of the hat to mules—literal ones this time. On October 26, 1785, a pair of Spanish mules arrived in the U.S. as a gift from King Charles III. They’re said to have been the first mules bred in this country, by George Washington himself.

23. October 27: Cranky Co-workers Day

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Not that you have any of those ...

24. October 29: National Cat Day

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We know you don’t need a date in the calendar for this, but it makes your cat-filled Instagram feeds all that much more justified.

25. October 30: National Candy Corn Day

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Feel free to debate the merits of a holiday for this highly controversial, tricolored confection.

26. October 30: Checklists Day

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Put this one on your to-do list!

27. October 30: Create A Great Funeral Day

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Much of October is spent focused on ghouls and goblins, but this day is all about confronting the scariest thing of all: mortality. Between your apple orchard outings and haunted house trips, make sure you and your loved ones have a plan for after you've shuffled off this mortal coil. Happy October?

28. October 30: Haunted Refrigerator Night

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This offbeat holi-night is about exploring the darker corners and containers of your fridge. After all, we've all got some metaphorical skeletons lurking in there.

29. October 31: National Magic Day

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Halloween, shmalloween. This holiday is fittingly held on the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini.

30. October 31: National Knock-Knock Jokes Day

There's no better time than the spookiest day of the year to tell some good (or bad) knock-knock jokes.