10 Oldest Professions That You Might Not Know About

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No matter how much you wanted to, you couldn’t get a job in most of these old professions today. Despite having been popular more than 50 years ago across the US and the UK, the majority of them no longer exist. Just like everything, they have either become unnecessary or replaced by modern technology which can carry out the job better than we can!

See Also: The Highest Paid Jobs in the World

So, let’s check out the 10 oldest professions that you probably don’t know about:

1. Knocker-Upper

How do you think people managed to wake up on time to go to their jobs before alarm clocks? The knocker-upper was responsible for waking up his clients so that they would go to work on time, using sticks and clubs to knock on their windows and doors.

This profession was prominent during the Industrial Revolution all the way up until the late 1920s in Britain and Ireland. Back then, people preferred to hire a knocker-up as they were much more affordable and reliable than alarm clocks. Unfortunately for the late nighters, knocker-uppers didn’t come with a snooze button and didn’t leave the windows until they were sure their clients had been awoken.

2. Food Safety Tester

Being a food taster has always been quite risky. These people have to taste food before it is served, especially when it is intended for important people such as kings and politicians. So it doesn’t matter if the food leaves a horrible taste in their mouths nor if it contains poison or other materials that could be dangerous to their health; that is their job.

Despite the dangers, it is not an amazingly well-paid job. For example, in ancient Rome, and throughout history, the job was often left up to slaves and servants. But in recent times politicians such as Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama have been known to employ tasters as part of their security teams. They would obviously be better paid than slaves but probably not the kind of money they deserve for the risk they are taking.

3. Enemy Aircraft Detector

Enemy aircraft detectors were essentially the prehistoric radar listeners of the military force. Soldiers used acoustic mirrors and many different listening devices to help them tell if enemy aeroplanes were approaching. This was done by identifying the sounds of an aircraft and warning their troops to prepare for battle.

4. Elevator Operator

Before we had the modern elevators we see at grand hotels and pretty much everywhere else today; we had manual elevators that were controlled by a ‘lift man’ or ‘lift woman’ who were formally known as elevator operators. While this profession sounds relatively easy, in reality, it wasn’t. Elevator operators needed excellent customer service skills to welcome people and a sense of timing to be able to stop the elevator at a precise moment that it was level with the correct floor.

5. Lamplighter

Can you imagine being a lamplighter and wandering around the city all night to manually light up and extinguish each street lamp? Before electric lamps were invented and introduced almost universally, these professionals used to do this by hand while holding a long pole or using a ladder to reach up to the lamp. The lamplighter, otherwise known as the town’s watchman, used candles, oil and other consumable liquids to light the lamp. Only a small number of these professionals still exist, but they are employed everywhere from New Orleans and London to Belarus and Poland primarily for heritage projects.

6. Milkman

In the past when there weren’t advanced refrigeration and food preservation techniques, a milkman would normally deliver fresh milk to people who ordered it at their house. While this profession still exists in some areas around the world, its popularity has fallen dramatically. Until recently, though, a milkman would travel in an electric vehicle, the ‘milk float’, to deliver milk, eggs, and other dairy products such as cream, butter and cheese.

7. Rat Catcher

Rat catchers carry out some of the dirtiest work you can imagine. With the increasing population of rats within Europe, people had to do something to prevent diseases from spreading to the public. Not everybody is willing to help out except these brave rat catchers who are putting their lives at risk by getting bitten and catching serious infections while being around – and touching these filthy rats. Yikes!

This is one of the few professions on this list that is very much still alive and kicking. While most rat catchers are now referred to as pest control operatives or pest technicians they carry out many of the same duties, but usually with less risk due to advances in technology. However, the danger of catching a disease from a rat bite is still quite real for these professionals, so it is not exactly an ideal career.

8. Switchboard Operator

Switchboard operators were quite important back in the day. When phones had just been invented, operators would manually switch calls using a pair of plugs that was inserted in the right jack in order to connect the line. These people helped to connect calls and were an integral part of telephone network companies. If they wanted to, they could also listen in to conversations that they had connected so if you were nosy and loved gossip it could be an excellent job.

9. Factory Lector

This guy used to entertain the factory workers so that they didn’t get bored doing the same repetitive tasks over and over again. A factory lector was paid by the workers and not their employer to read passages from trade union literature that entertained the manual labourers.

10. Ice Cutter


Ice cutters were employed during the winter periods and were responsible for collecting ice from frozen rivers and lakes for pre-refrigeration purposes. The ice collected was either taken to houses or sent to businesses in the form of ice boxes and was used to store cold food. This profession was rather difficult and dangerous as it required strong ice cutters to work under extreme weather conditions.

See Also: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Career

Are there any other professions that you think I should have been included in this list? Please let us know in the comments section below…

This article was first published in May 2015.