9 Professions That Should Be Extinct but Aren't

Blacksmith working in a forge
Photo: Hans Splinter/flickr

Many career paths have waxed and waned over the years due to technological advances or sweeping cultural changes. And more than a few have bitten the dust. Among the notable losers are town criers, leech collectors and gandy dancers.

Then there are those professions that continue to hang on by a thread. There's no absolute need for them, but like anything of historical value, they're kept alive by a few die-hard devotees who simply love the craft too much to let it go off to that big career fair in the sky. Despite the mechanization and hyper-globalization of the 21st century, these heritage professions remain.

of 9

Mule stringer

Photo: Joel Henner/flickr

Maybe you thought this one was long buried in the career graveyard. After all, with ATVs, helicopters and drones, do you still need a string of pack mules to trek across wilderness terrain? Turns out two western regional offices of the U.S. Forest Service still use mule trains to carry supplies into roadless areas where trail crews, biologists and other staff work and haul trash out.

of 9

Knife grinder

Photo: Alain Lauga/Shutterstock

Back in the day, housewives thrilled to the sound of the traveling knife sharpener's bell clanging through the neighborhood. They'd lug out their dull knives, scissors and gardening tools for some on-the-spot sharpening at the "knife man's" grindstone-equipped truck or pushcart.

Sounds like a colorful relic of the bygone days, but plenty of mobile knife men (and women) still do a thriving business in neighborhoods across the country. The cutlers' carts are mostly gone now in favor of trucks, or, in a few cases, bicycles. And many have also branched out to include house calls and visits to farmers markets.

of 9

Photo film processor

Photo: Volkova Vera/Shutterstock

Remember when you had to wait until after the film was developed to see your vacation and holiday photos? Digital and cellphone cameras have put an end to the wait, but if you think old-fashioned film photography is obsolete and photo processors have departed for greener career pastures, think again. There's a thriving niche industry of mail-order labs and chain holdouts like Walgreens that still employs film developers.

of 9


Photo: Sandy Brown Jensen/flickr

Plenty of people drive dog sleds for fun and competition. Witness the continued popularity of Alaska’s legendary 1,000-mile Iditarod race. But a few expert mushers continue to find paying work in Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve where dog-sled teams have transported supplies and packed down snow trails since the 1920s.

of 9

Radio operator

Photo: Aubord Dulac/Shutterstock

Twitter, Facebook and smartphones keep us in constant communication with the world, but a few old-line purists still do it the pre-digital way via ham radio. Amateur radio operators never heeded the modernist call to hang up their transmitters and microphones. In fact, some 700,000 are currently licensed in the U.S., and their numbers are growing, particularly since the FCC stopped requiring operators to master hard-to-learn Morse code in 2007.

Ham operators aren't simply idle hobbyists, though. Radio operators were crucial to rescue and law enforcement efforts during 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina when other communications systems failed.

of 9


Photo: McCarthy's PhotoWorks/Shutterstock

It seems like the only way a blacksmith could ply his trade these days would be as a historical re-enactor, but this old-school craft hasn't been relegated to the living-history circuit just yet. Masters of hammering red-hot metal into tools and household items are still in demand, not only for making horse shoes but also among artisanal-minded consumers seeking ornamental hand-forged handrails, fireplace tools, furniture, gates and art work.

of 9


Photo: Robert Przybysz/Shutterstock

Not to be confused with cobblers who repair shoes, shoemakers (or cordwainers, as they were once called) craft footwear by hand using leather and other traditional materials. Mass-production nearly rendered them extinct decades ago, but a few shoe artisans still design their own footwear lines and create custom shoes for those seeking one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. Shoemaking classes and schools are also gaining ground as more DIYers look to preserve this nearly lost art.

of 9


Photo: Francois Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images

Barrel making might sound like one of those ancient professions that gave up the ghost long ago, but many master coopers continue to practice their trade around the world. Most craft wooden barrels by hand for distilleries, breweries and wineries that want to impart old-world barrel-aged flavor to their alcoholic offerings. Demand for old-fangled barrels is also fueled by the rise of craft distilleries and microbreweries in recent years.

of 9


Photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Once upon a time, the milkman paid his weekly visit to a wide swath of Americans bearing fresh-from-the-dairy goodness. Though nearly extinguished by the surge of supermarket dairy cases, milkmen are once again delivering bottled milk door-to-door in neighborhoods across America. Many are capitalizing on the thirst for organic, grass-fed and locally produced dairy products, and a few also offer farm-fresh vegetables and meat.