- Several jobs that employed thousands of people in the 1970s have dwindled in popularity or completely vanished.
- Technology is behind some of the changes. Typing was a specialised skill in the 1970s, but now everybody has their own keyboards.
- Here are eight jobs that have virtually disappeared over the past 50 years.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The tectonic shifts in the US economy since the advent of computers and the rise of the internet have transformed American jobs.
Some older workers, whose skills were prized when they started their careers, have been left behind by shifts in demand.
If you got your first job in the 1960s or 1970s, you might have been part of the typing pool, sold encyclopedias door-to-door, or set type for a printer. You will find few if any openings in these professions today.
Here are eight jobs that have disappeared over the past 50 years.
Before computers, there were typists who took shorthand or dictation and typed it up in triplicate.
There are still a few word processor jobs, mostly in law firms. As of 2017, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported 65,200 word processor and typist jobs. Most of these jobs were in government offices and schools.
But this job category has all but disappeared from the private workforce. Now that everyone is his or her own typist, it’s hard to see a future for this position.
You may think it’s a modern innovation to get your milk delivered by Instacart, but the milkman who brought milk from the local dairy was a venerable tradition. The milkman would put glass bottles in an insulated box on your porch. You’d leave the empties there for him to pick up on delivery day.
This disappearing job may be making a minor comeback to satisfy demand for fresh-from-the-farm food. But milk delivery will probably never again be as common as it was 50 years or more ago.
Video store clerk
One whole industry has both blossomed and completely disappeared in just the last 50 years: video rentals. The first video store opened in 1977 in Los Angeles and rented videos for a staggering $US10 a day. The Family Video chain still has 660 stores, mostly in small cities in the Midwest, but the Blockbuster chain went bankrupt in 2010 and soon will have only one store left.
At its height, Blockbuster had 84,300 employees. Thousands of mum-and-pop shops and smaller chains employed clerks as well. But the pleasure of browsing the aisles and taking a chance on a staff movie pick couldn’t compete with the instant gratification of streaming video on Netflix. The video store clerk is a vanishing breed.
If you’re old enough to have watched TV in the 1970s, you might remember Lily Tomlin’s switchboard operator Ernestine saying, “One ringy dingy, two ringy dingies,” on “Laugh-In.” By the 1970s, manual switchboards were already old school. But the last one didn’t disappear until 1991.
Before computers turned printing digital, every word had to be put in place by a typesetter. By the 1970s, Linotype, which could set a whole row of type at once, was widely used. While there has been an upsurge in letterpress printing for small jobs like wedding invitations, the job of typesetter is not coming back.
In the 1970s, going to the movies meant sitting in the dark while a projectionist in a booth threaded reels of celluloid film onto projectors and watched for the symbol that marked the end of one reel and the signal to switch to the next. If the projectionist was a pro, you never noticed the break between the reels. If the film broke, the projectionist spliced it together before the audience could get too restless.
While a few movie theatres still show film on reels, most movie projection has gone digital. Projection is largely automatic, and one person can monitor all the theatres in a multiplex, rather than having one projectionist for every screen. This means that there are much fewer projectionist jobs, and the work involves pushing buttons, not swapping reels.
In the 1970s, that knock on your door could be an encyclopedia salesman, arms loaded with heavy volumes with entries for everything from aardvark to Zanzibar. Think of it as Wikipedia before the internet. The price was high, but you could pay in installments.
Encyclopedia Britannica, the most popular encyclopedia, stopped selling door-to-door in 1996 and ended their print edition in 2010. You can now find Britannica online, and you might find an odd volume or two in a thrift shop. But the encyclopedia salesman is an extinct species.
The New York Times reported the last log drive down the Kennebec River in Maine in 1976. Before that, loggers in remote forests would drag felled trees to the nearest waterway. Men known as river pigs or river hogs would steer the log drive down river to the mills for processing. The log drivers would follow the flotilla in boats or ride on top.
There are still jobs for loggers, but the trees are hauled to the mill in trucks. You won’t see the river pigs driving logs downstream anymore.
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