Can you imagine life without a microwave oven? And who the heck were cobblers?

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By Greg Markley

Just after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1980, I got a temporary job as a security guard. I was assigned to Gorham Jewelry Foundry in Providence, Rhode Island. The company was founded in 1831 and is heralded world over for its sterling silver. So, we were always on our toes on the late shift at such an esteemed place.
But, one vehicle we gladly admitted into the complex: the milk truck, which we always heard coming from a half-mile away. In a bit of tender mercy, the milkman always placed surprise drinks near our shack before rambling back into the night. One night, we might receive small cartons of chocolate milk, the next night–maybe orange juice.
Goodbye to all that—local milkmen have been eclipsed by the supermarket. Business Insider noted last year that “the milkman who brought milk from the local dairy was a venerable tradition. (He) would put glass bottles in an insulated box on your porch. You’d leave the empties for him to pick up on delivery day” – not anymore.
Has anyone seen an exclusively video store clerk at Tiger Town lately? Why not? Below, I mention three more jobs that don’t exist now. I show how microwave ovens became ubiquitous.
The first video store opened its doors in 1977 in Los Angeles. It was a huge innovation for people’s movie-watching. By 2010, Blockbuster was bankrupt. Dead at age 33. Reason: it could not compete with the immediacy of streaming video on Netflix. As of 2018, just one store remains according to Business Insider—in Bend, Oregon.
Imagine a product that was in 25% of U.S. households in 1986, but by 1997 was in 90% of households. That item is the microwave oven. It works fast to heat foods, which in our busy society is a blessing. Also, it heats throughout very well, that is, evenly. Microwave ovens were first used by the public in January 1947 in a vending machine in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, New York City. The first commercial microwave oven also appeared in 1947.
“The radiation left over from the Big Bang is the same as that in your microwave oven but very much less powerful. It would heat your pizza only to minus 271.3*C – not much good for defrosting the pizza, let alone cooking it.” So said the late physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking.
Remember the movie projectionists of old? In the 1970s, movie goers were forced to sit idly by as a projectionist (also called operator) threaded reels of celluloid film onto projectors and at the appropriate time switched to the next reel. Now, with the projection job digital, one person can keep all the theaters in a multiplex advancing the movies.
This is how jobs in this specialty have become rarer. Also, largely a thing of the past are “ushers,” which when I was a kid were men about my current age who were semi-retired and could keep control. It’s sad realizing I am now old enough to be such an usher, and cannot be!
This last job perished as a result of the Internet. The job is encyclopedia salesman. They would knock on some doors several times a day, tugging heavy volumes. You could pay in installments, or buy the volumes one a week or on some installment scheme. This is how Funk & Wagnalls succeeded. Encyclopedia Britannica stopped selling door-to-door in the 1990s and ended their print edition in 2011.
In the early 1970s, I was in junior high school and asked the long-time neighborhood cobbler when he expected to retire. He said something like, “For years, I thought it would be 10 years from now. But this business has changed and I may be the last cobbler you know personally, Greg.”
I was shocked. He explained that his occupation was being subsumed by the shoe stores at a mall a few miles away. “They can buy new shoes at a lower price than they can get from a shoe repairer, or cobbler, like me.” Those stores had lower prices because they sold in volume, and as a one-man shop he could only work on one shoe at a time. But now, almost 50 years later, the hard workers and valuable citizens listed above deserve to be remembered.
Quiz answers for last week’s questions (Dec. 27)
1.) I accidentally had Auburn Engineering on both—I meant to have one as UA Engineering. So everyone gets this one correct.
2.) Opelika-Auburn News
3.) Latest on Fire (Dec. 5, 2019)
4.) ScanTron.Com
5.) WOW Offers $74.99 Monthly TV Bundles
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has masters’ degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.

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