Gas Station Attendants
It’s about that time of year when people pack their bags, gas up their cars, and hit the road on a summer vacation or road trip. Our cover story in this month’s issue introduces you to vintage gas pumps, collectibles related to gas and fuel, and even vintage gas stations – and, along with them, those plucky helpers of yesteryear, full-service gas station attendants, who, upon hearing the ‘ding’ that a customer had pulled up, would rush out to your car, fuel it, wipe it down and get it ready for the next leg of your adventure.
Where did those attendants go? Theirs is just one of many jobs that have vanished with the passage of time. It’s a topic that has become especially important to discuss as automation and artificial intelligence threatens even more jobs in the coming years. For now, I wanted to take a moment to salute those jobs that have gone by the wayside, relics of a bygone time when a company’s focus was sharply settled on the consumer and his satisfaction. These folks made life a little easier for all of us.
Milkman: So often the butt of jokes about questionable parentage, the milkman served a crucial role in one’s household, delivering milk, eggs, butter and other kitchen staples to homes across the country. When home refrigeration became more common, the job became obsolete (but the jokes have stuck around; that much is certain).
Elevator operator: Fourth floor – housewares and home décor! Don’t bother exerting yourself to press a button. Let a gentlemen or lady dressed in a fancy uniform do it for you. Seen most often in department stores and offices, these operators were forced to hang up their uniforms in the 1950s, when automatic elevators became the norm.
Chimney sweep: Though a lot of us know them as the dancing, dirty fellows from “Mary Poppins,” the position was a crucial one for hundreds of years – until the Industrial Revolution, that is, when electric and gas heating were used. Blimey!
Billy boy: Just like having your own personal barista by your side as you work, billy boys were apprentices in training who would make tea and coffee for the other men as they labored throughout the day. This job existed until as recently as the 1950s.
Switchboard operator: One ringy dingy … two ringy dingies … She connected you to Lakeside 48859 and some even wore roller skates to make her job easier and your connection faster, but by 1969, the year “Laugh-In” debuted its sassy telephone operator Ernestine (played by Lily Tomlin), the job was already on the downswing. Today, it’s nearly extinct, with just a couple thousand still sitting at the switchboard, according to a 2021 CNN report.
Pinsetter: Before the automated version was invented in 1936, this bowling alley worker would sit behind the bowling pins at the end of a lane and reset them to their correct position; they also were tasked with clearing fallen pins and returned bowling balls to players. The job was usually a low-paid, part-time gig, and these positions were usually filled by teens.
We salute you, jobs of yesteryear, and we remain grateful for their existence during the time in which you were needed. With that – fuel up, enjoy your road trip, and please do travel safely.