10 Extinct Job Titles

Although most lamplighters were men, occasionally women did the work too, such as Mrs. Ann Eaton from Jersey City, New Jersey in 1857. © CORBIS

Before electricity and light bulbs illuminated our homes, cities and streets, gas and oil were used to light up our lives. In the early 19th century, gas lamps were first installed in the dark foggy streets of London and other cities, mainly as a safety measure. Someone had to light these gas lamps at night, then extinguish them in the morning. Thus the job of lamplighter was born.

To give you some sense of the scope of the job, there were tens of thousands of these lamps in London alone. In contrast, more-modest Lowell, Massachusetts, was home to nearly 1,000 in 1888. Lowell's lamplighters were paid about $2 per day to care for 70 to 80 lamps. A lamplighter's equipment included whale blubber (for use as lamp oil), wick trimmers and a ladder [sources: Asmus, Forgotten New England].

In London lamplighting was considered a prestigious job, passed down from father to son, though women sometimes did it too. The job was relatively safe; the worst hazard, perhaps, was gas buildup in the gas-powered lamps, which could blow a lighter off his ladder. Lamplighters often made extra cash on the side by capturing rare bugs attracted to the light, then selling them to insect collectors. As you might guess, the advent of electricity and light bulbs extinguished this once-noble career.