10 jobs that are gone from Jersey for good
Through all the years New Jerseyans have debated the virtues of our ban on self-serve gas and the advent of E-ZPass, one thing always came up. The loss of jobs. Gas attendants would be put out of work if we brought about self-serve. E-ZPass transponders, and now cashless tolls, have virtually eliminated the need for toll collectors. They're still there, but far fewer and many full time jobs have become part time positions.
So it got me wondering what jobs have gone away for good from the Jersey landscape? Here are ten jobs that are never coming back again to the Dirty Jerz.
10) Bowling alley pin setter
Young guys and even some women used to do this job before the technology came along to eliminate the position. They used to perch at the business end of the alley and jump down after each roll to remove the knocked over pins and re-set what was left. Games no doubt took a little longer. The job was eventually toast when the mechanical version was invented in 1936 by Gottfried Schmidt.
9) Switchboard operator
How long has it been since you made your last collect call? (For that matter how long has it been since you had a landline phone?) Back when New Jersey only had the 201 and 609 area codes, switchboard operators were still at it, connecting long-distance calls. The position became obsolete in the 80's.
Long before there were refrigerators, hand-sawing blocks of ice from frozen lakes was a job. People had ice boxes at home, before refrigerators. Men would deliver heavy 50 pound chunks of ice to your kitchen and you would throw the ice into the ice box to store your food. What a chore. You're thinking a 50 pound chunk of ice wouldn't be spread out enough to keep all the food from spoiling? Yes, that's where the ice pick came in. Now we think of an ice pick as some old fashioned thing that today you might only use to stab someone with. Everyone used them at one point. In the very last days of home ice delivery, when my father was only 13 years old, he worked on one of those trucks with his uncle doing this very job.
Way back when, ladies would get their buttons, ribbons, and other sewing tools from a haberdashery. Selling this stuff was a niche that went away when larger arts and crafts stores came along that handled that and so much more. Curse you Michael's!
6) Town crier
This isn't just some quaint idea from a Dickens novel. This was a real thing. The town crier's job was to literally go street corner to street corner and scream out all the important news of the day. You had to have a loud, booming voice that could hold up for hours. The tradition dates back to the 18th century. Of course that was long ago. Now we have New Jersey 101.5.
With all the trouble Amtrak and NJ Transit have had with rail service of late, you might want this job to come back. Back in the day, before the 1960's, a signalman handled multiple switches and levers manually to have all trains moving in the right direction. Once things became computerized in the 60's this is another job that went away.
4) Leech collector
In the 19th century, a medical miracle was thought to be in the form of medicinal leeches. Yes, those disgusting, wriggling things. A job back then was finding and collecting leeches that doctors would then use to suck blood and disease from the body. Eventually they found it was spreading more disease than it was curing and the practice went away.
This is one of my favorites. Before the alarm clock came along in 1847, a job existed called the knockerupper. They had to wake people up so they could get to work on time by tapping the glass of their windows with long poles or by shooting peas or small rocks at their windows. Believe it or not, this was how it worked. And no, it didn't even come with a snooze alarm option.
2) Video rental clerk
I thought I'd end with some more recent jobs lost to the extinction pile. With Netflix and streaming and all the rest, video rental stores are all but gone. There may be one or two left in New Jersey, but nothing like the 80's and 90's. Some day soon those scenes in Kevin Smith's movie Clerks won't even make sense.
1) Fotomat clerk
Do you remember those strange little huts with the yellow roofs that dotted the parking lots of so many New Jersey shopping centers? For that matter, do you remember film? Exactly. At their peak in 1980 there were more than 4,000 Fotomats throughout the U.S. People don't take pictures the way they used to, and these jobs left the Garden State long ago.
So when we talk about job loss from finally allowing self-serve gas, you can see how it's a silly argument. New jobs, along with technology and life itself, manage to go on.