Lost in Time: 22 Jobs That Have Disappeared Over the Decades

The technological advancements we’ve witnessed in the past century have changed our lives beyond all recognition. Unfortunately, with modernization, some professions have been replaced by technology or just aren’t needed at all anymore. Someone recently asked online, “What’s a profession you’ve seen phased out in your lifetime?” We collected the 22 best replies:

Proofreader

People Have Read The Terms And Conditions
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“Judging by the advertising I see online these days, I’d say proofreading and editing are very much reduced professions.”

“I got an email recently at work from the press secretary’s office of the governor. The first image was upside down. It was sent to my entire agency with at least 5,000 employees, possibly others as well. The profession may be dying, but I question if it should be!”

Paperboy

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“Not a profession, but having a paper route used to be a thing. Now there are very few people who get a daily physical paper. The route must cover a lot of miles now.”

“Our city’s local paper stopped production a few weeks ago. It’s actually kind of sad seeing everything go digital these days.”

Video Rental Staff

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“This is so sad, too. I used to do Blockbuster mail-in rentals, and you could exchange them in-store for other movies. The staff knew their movies. I would hand them the three I got, tell them what I thought, and they would make three recommendations. I was never disappointed.”

“I have great memories of inviting a buddy to sleep over; we’d pick a movie from Hollywood Video for the night. It was great.”

Photo Booth Operator

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“Back in the 20th century, there used to be small huts in parking lots where a person would develop your film in an hour.”

“I remember one-hour photo places in the mall where you could watch the photos developing in the window. Also, they used to cost a lot more than regular development, which could take a week. It really blows my mind how I can have instant photos at any time nowadays.”

Radio DJs

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“They’re not completely gone yet, but they are dwindling toward extinction as local radio stations consolidate under corporations.”

“I agree. They once played records they liked in addition to the hits. A DJ could single-handedly make a new band famous. Now it’s basically software playing the same predetermined top 40 songs on rotation.”

Toll Booth Collector

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“Dude, that was one that was on its way out but then got absolutely deleted by Covid.”

“In Chicago nowadays, all the toll booths are now open-lane tolling with a transponder or drive-thru lanes where you pay your toll online.”

Projectionist

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“I used to be one at a movie theater. Most theaters are all digital now with projectors on timers.”

“It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I just had to make sure movies started on time and the film fed through the brain correctly. Splicing together all the reels on Thursdays was fun, and then I got paid to watch them all. Also, it didn’t pay horribly for the early 2000s.”

Secretary

Referring to a Secretary
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“When I started my career, even low-level managers had an assistant to write memos, answer their phones, and plan their travel. I worked in a company of 3,000 people, and I bet there were 100 of them. Now I’m guessing there are two.”

“I only see executive assistants in the workplace. They help with coordinating a schedule for someone who’s triple booked at any moment. For lower levels, they don’t exist.”

Cobbler 

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“There used to be people that fixed shoes and shined shoes. Every town had one.”

“This one is brutal if you buy high-quality shoes that you wear a lot. I’ve had my redwings resoled twice in almost 12 years. The second time, it was a huge hassle finding a cobbler.”

Manual Processing 

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“Factories used to be full of people doing ordinary things, like flipping over a different piece of metal every 8 seconds or pulling green apples off of the conveyor belt. Now that robotic systems are easy to program and cheap to buy, those jobs don’t exist.”

“It’s still a thing in China because labor is relatively cheap compared to high-precision machinery. But here in the US, it’s worth investing in expensive (but precise) machines.”

Small Engine Repair Person

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“There are still some, but small engines used to fail constantly, and everyone had a few of them. The reliability of the devices has significantly reduced the number of people doing this.”

“Reliability is not the only thing—I had a problem getting my lawn mowed started last week. I looked up a few YouTube videos and fixed it myself.”

Type-setter

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“The guy who would physically lay out all the fonts and arrange how a newspaper or magazine page would be printed.”

“I’ve worked for a commercial printing company for 22 years. It’s amazing how much different it is now compared to when I first started. We never had to “typeset” like you’re talking about, but we did have to burn negatives for every single printing plate we used.”

Switchboard Operators

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“This was my grandmother’s first job (in the 1930s), literally connecting calls with wires by hand. By the time she died (at 96), she had a smartphone and could forward me bizarre conspiracy theories on it. It’s just one of many examples available of how much technological change there was in the mid-to-late 20th century, in just one lifetime, really.”

“My aunt worked for AT&T as an operator but was made redundant.”

Door-to-door Salespeople

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“You used to see them pretty frequently back in the 60s, but you never see them now.”

“I remember vacuum salesmen still showing up and doing a 30-minute demo in the late 80s. Now you just go to Walmart and get a vacuum for $100. Things have gotten so cheap.”

Medical Transcription

Doctor
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“Trained editors in medical language have resorted to spot-checking bad dictation. A once important profession has now been replaced by technology.”

“I tried doing that for a while, a long time ago. I typed some things I wish I’d never heard.”

Phone Book Industry

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“I used to toss out phone books for years. Now we’ve had the sense to get rid of them but still have the post office run on delivering useless coupon books.”

“I’m not saying I got all Navin Johnson about the new phone book arriving, but it always had a wealth of information and good coupons along with the phone numbers and addresses. I just got our new one a few months ago, and it was very disappointing.”

Elevator Operator

An Elevator Attendant
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“There are a few left in the Chicago Arts Building. That’s the only place I’ve seen them, though.”

“I worked in a building with many. They didn’t install a modern elevator until eight years ago.”

Bike Messengers

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“There used to be hundreds of them in SF and NYC racing around to deliver envelopes, advertising art, court filings, etc. Now everything’s done with high-speed internet.”

“They’re still here, but nowadays, they’re only used by the dispensaries. Hospitals and labs use them to courier urgent patient samples.”

Appliance Repair Person

Apple Repair Technicians
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“When I was a kid and something broke, you would just take it to the local repairman, and he would fix it. Stereo, TV, vacuum, lawnmower, bike, these guys could fix anything. They had a small shop where they had parts for everything, in some sort of comforting chaos.”

“I have been looking for a couple of years now to find someone to fix my 1960s toaster. Even the company doesn’t have any ideas where I could send it!”

Local Newspaper Reporter

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“Small towns simply no longer have anyone to tell them what’s going on with the school board, the water district, and so on. It’s so tragic. Reporters are the last to go; for years, there have been no full-time photographers, paginators, or printers (outsourced). Our office had a huge printing press that became too costly to maintain.”

“I graduated studying journalism in 2008, at the exact time newspapers had a major decline.”

Blacksmith

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“They rarely use old-school hammers and tongs these days. Everything has moved to CNC, so smithing is now a cross between mechanical and software engineering.”

“They still exist, but it’s become a niche specialty. There’s a guy in east Tennessee that still does old-fashioned wrought iron work and makes knives by hand.”

Milkman or Milkwoman

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“People in my old complex used to get milk from Royal Crest. I never understood how milk delivery was so loud; even the truck sounded like a victim of catalytic converter theft.”

“I’m old enough to remember the local dairy’s milkman delivering milk directly to our house.” 

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