It's hard to say for sure when the first professional butcher opened shop. But scientists and underwater archaeologists with the University of Miami found the butchered remains of a giant sloth dating back about 12,000 years in a Florida sinkhole. Whether or not this was the work of a pro, we do know butchers were in business in the ancient Roman Empire by 100 C.E. A relief sculpture from that period shows a butcher in his shop, cleaver in hand, hooks hanging overhead and a meat-dressing table nearby [source: The Butchers Guild].
The profession became more popular over the centuries until its apex in the 19th and 20th centuries, when meatpacking behemoths like those working out of Chicago's Union Stock Yards reigned over the industry and skilled meat cutters were in great demand [source: Chicago Historical Society].
But as the 20th century wound down, supermarkets muscled out butcher shops and meat consumption began to be viewed as not so great for one's health, causing the number of butcher jobs to tumble. However, in the early 21st century, quality products from small producers became fashionable, like craft beer, artisan cheese and locally grown specialty meats. Today, industry consultants say butchers are in demand, and higher-end butcher shops are on the rise [sources: The Butchers Guild, Jackson].