A Milkman? A Billy Boy? Other Odd Jobs That Don’t Exist Anymore in Honor of Labor Day

THE MILKMAN, Jimmy Durante, 1950
Everett Collection

For some of us, growing up visiting our grandparents’ house was always a treat, not just for the warm cookies but their home had that intriguing little box positioned next to their back door, which opened up to the alley where at one time a man (a milkman) would come along and drop a half-gallon bottle of milk and a cartoon of eggs.  Today, those milk chutes are a rarity as many homeowners have sealed them off to protect against theft and/or insulated to conserve energy. Clearly, as the years have gone on, technology has advanced quite a bit and the world has changed quickly in each decade. If you think back to your teenage or young adult years, perhaps you had a job that no longer exists. In honor of Labor Day today, let’s talk about some interesting and even bizarre jobs from the past that no longer employ anyone.

Switchboard operator

circa 1935: A telephone operator with headphones and a mouthpiece at a switchboard.

General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

In the early days of the telephone, people could only connect with one another through a switchboard. Switchboard operators answered calls and directed them to the person or company they were trying to reach.

Leech collector

You couldn’t be faint of heart for this job. Many, many years ago, doctors would often use leeches for medical treatments. So, there had to be someone that collected those leeches from creeks and rivers. Sometimes, they would even use their own legs to collect those creatures. Yikes!


circa 1950: A bowler from Jamaica High School, New York, about to score a strike by knocking all ten wooden pins down with one roll of the ball

Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images

Now, most bowling alleys have automated pin-set up and retrieval machines but before these were invented, a pinsetter would have to replace the pins between each turn. What a painstakingly boring job!

Billy boy

Have you figured out what a billy boy is yet? In today’s terms, they were basically an intern or apprentice and they had to make tea for people working as a blacksmith or working on the railway yards.

Elevator operator

circa 1930: A lift operator waiting for passengers

General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Before elevators were automatic using buttons, there was an elevator operator who would greet you as you walked on or off. They manually closed and opened the elevator doors, controlled the speed, and would let you know what was on each level of the building.


Alchemists tried to convert chemicals into gold and they often tried to make special concoctions to treat diseases.

Punch card operator

30th January 1970: Loading cards into the hopper of an IBM 1442 Card Read Punch. This unit is used as an input-output device with an IBM System 360 computer

K. Britten/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Before computers were everywhere, you had to punch in and out of work using punch cards. There had to be someone there to fix them and maintain the cards for the company’s records.


Before refrigeration was commonplace, a milkman would come each day to deliver that day’s supply of milk.

Knocker upper

Get your head out of the gutter. A knocker upper was actually responsible for waking people up in the morning before alarm clocks exited. In the 1800s, people could hire knocker uppers to shoot peas at the window or tap on the glass to wake them up at a certain time. My question is … how did the knocker uppers get up on time?

Video rental store employee

BLOCKBUSTER, left: Melissa Fumero, (Season 1, ep. 101, aired Nov. 3, 2022)

Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix/Everett Collection

Ah, the days of Blockbuster. The ’80s, ’90s, and even 2000s were the era of renting VHS tapes and later DVDs. Of course, these businesses had to have employees to run the store. Once streaming came along, the video rental stores became obsolete and this job went away forever. Netflix even did a series around the phenomenon called — you guessed it — Blockbuster.

Of course, there are so many other jobs that are now obsolete. Can you think of any others? Let us know in the comments!

Top Dollar Collectibles
Want More?

Top Dollar Collectibles

August 2023

Find the most valuable — and fun — keepsakes in the worlds of sports, toys and superheroes

Buy This Issue