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A job lot - occupations from times gone by

This week’s article (more like a list) is another dive into my research with a little sidekick to the left.

In other words, I started with looking for the job title of the guy who had to walk around lighting street lamps back in the 1800s (lamplighter) and was distracted by a whole raft of occupations no longer around.

It started me thinking of the impact automation is having on our current economic situation and the rather obvious realisation that, of course, what goes around comes around. Just as lamplighters lost their jobs with the advent of electric streetlights so to do so many people today as algorithms, robotics, and automated processes change our workscape. Let’s look at a few examples, which you might find interesting.

Starting with lamplighting, this job was actually quite dangerous. After all, the person doing the lighting had to ensure there was gas in the lamp, light it as dusk settled and extinguish it at dawn, each time handling a highly flammable and somewhat combustible product. The last lamplighters lit city streets from the early 1900s onward: 1930s in Sydney.

Next job that I think needs to be re-established is the Town Husband. These handy fellows had the job of collecting monies from the fathers of illegitimate children to help with their upkeep. The only reference I could find for this particular occupation was The Daily Telegraph.

Then there are the jobs for kids like the pinsetter, specifically, the bowling alley pinsetter. Boys were once employed to reset the pins for the bowlers. Another career path lost to automation!

Resurrectionists (also known as ‘body snatchers’) visited cemeteries and resurrected (snatched or just plain pinched) cadavers for university research. Highly illegal, but apparently common enough, until they made a movie about it….

Burk & Hare stars Simon Pegg, Andy Serkus and Isla Fisher

Then there was the lector (no, not Hannibal Lector). A lector sat on a raised platform (lectern) and read to workers to keep them entertained while they spent hour after hour performing often tedious tasks.

Elevator Operators – I remember this one! People were once employed to push the buttons in the elevator for passengers. They’d also let passengers know what was happening or being sold if you were in a department store on each floor. Going up?

Computers – yes, you heard me correctly. Computer was once an occupation not a machine (the ultimate in automation?). It was also a job quite often held by women who would spend their days calculating figures, by hand, no calculator. And there’s a movie about that as well

Here’s one that might give you the heebie-jeebies (it does me, which is why I’ve included it), leech collection. Ewwww!

Remember when doctors prescribed leeches to suck out all the toxins, poisons, and bad blood building up in your body? Ah, those were the days! What a job that must have been, right up until it was discovered that leeches allegedly helped spread disease rather than prevented it, and there goes another profession to the scrap-heap!


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