Let's talk about technology for a second. There was an ad for IBM done by the firm Saatchi & Saatchi in the early 80s. It featured two men watching a mechanical shovel digging a hole. "If it wasn't for that machine, 12 men with shovels could be doing that job," said one. The other replied, "If it wasn't for your 12 shovels, 200 men with teaspoons could be doing that job."
The point is, technology will continue to advance, and as it does, jobs will continue to become obsolete. Here are nine unique jobs that have vanished due to technology:
1. The Ice Cutter
If you've seen Frozen (anyone with kids has, multiple times), you'll know about the job of ice cutting. Icemen would brave the winter weather and venture onto frozen lakes to collect the surface ice; this could be several feet thick and required either a large, specialized handsaw, or a powered saw blade. This ice would be transported back to ice houses, where it was stored awaiting delivery to the homes of people with ice boxes who wanted to keep their food cold. When the refrigerator was developed, and the air conditioner, this profession melted away. However, it is still sometimes used as a showpiece in ice and snow sculpting events and festivals.
2. The Plague Doctor
A highly dangerous profession for obvious reasons, plague doctors were hired by towns and cities during the time of epidemics. Many were simply people who had given up on a poor-paying profession for one that offered greater compensation — danger pay, so to speak — and had no real experience of medicine. Most notable about the plague doctor was the costume — a heavy fabric overcoat doused in wax, and a face mask that looked like a giant beak, which held scented straw, herbs, and other fragrances to block out the stench of death. Advances in medicine, sanitation, and public health all but eradicated the plague, and thus, the plague doctor.
3. The Rag-Picker
Sometimes called "rag and bone men," rag-pickers would walk the streets day and night, asking for scraps of cloth, paper, cardboard, glass, metals, and other materials that could be recycled and made into other products. However, the rag-picker did not do the recycling; they simply handed it over to a "master rag-picker" in exchange for a set fee (by weight, for example) who would sell it to companies who could convert it back into usable products. Technology, including recycling plants and collection programs, virtually eliminated the profession. However, in third world countries, the very poorest people will still embark on rag-picking as a way to make some extra money.
4. The Scrivener
Sometimes referred to as a "scribe," scriveners made a living by writing and copying court and legal documents, and other written material. They were common in places where literacy rates were very low, and were also responsible for duties including dictation, petitions, and reading letters out loud to clients. Technology, such as photocopying machines and tape recorders, made the scrivener extinct in all but the very poorest parts of the world.
5. The Log Driver
These day, logs are transported to their destination, be it saw mills or pulp mills, via trucks and railroads. This wasn't always the case. A log driver would be employed to move the heavy logs from the cutting site, downstream, using the current of the river. It was a skilled profession, and an experienced crew could guide the logs without any kind of jams, pile-ups, or other major incidents. In peak seasons, logs would literally fill the rivers, making boat travel dangerous or impossible. It was tough, back-breaking, dangerous work, and men were routinely crushed to death by the fast-moving, heavy logs.
6. The Knocker-Upper
Before the invention of alarm clocks, which we all take for granted these days, people needed to make sure they got up on time for work. The task fell to someone called a knocker-upper, who would walk around the streets tapping on the windows of people who paid for a wake up call. It was a job done in the dark, the cold, and the rough streets of major cities, and paid very little.
7. The Switchboard Operator
From the late 1800s up until the 1960s, switchboard operators were the reason you were able to make a call. The job was hectic and mundane, requiring dexterity and nimble fingers to connect lines via a switchboard that had a dizzying number of jacks, plugs, and cords. If you've ever seen an old movie with someone using a candlestick phone, you'll hear them ask the operator to connect them to a number. That was the job, day in, day out. In the 1920s, automated exchanges started being developed. Now, technology has completely eliminated the need for switchboard operators.
8. The Gandy Dancer
Also known as railroad workers, gandy dancers were responsible for laying the many thousands of miles of tracks that span the United States. It was hard labor to say the least, and the wages were very poor. Working conditions were appalling, and men would often sing chants to keep spirits high and maintain good coordination. The invention of track-laying machines did away with the need for the gandy dancer, which is just as well. It was a thankless, underpaid task.
9. The Leech Collector
Once upon a time, leeches were used by the medical profession. As such, the demand for leeches was high, and leech collectors would travel out into bogs and marshes to collect the bloodsuckers. Advances in medical technology, and the ability to collect and harvest leeches in special facilities for modern medical use, led to the profession being wiped out.