Though not completely extinct (there are still lamplighters in London and Wroclaw), lamplighter is a typical profession of the past.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, city streets are illuminated. Before that, cities were completely dark – and only those who could afford a servant or a link boy could take a night walk safely. Although is not known for sure if the word's first public gas light got into operation in London or in Germany, the 1st of April, 1814, is generally regarded as the "birth date" of gas lighting. On that day, the old oil lamps around the St. Margaret's Chruch in London-Westminster were replaced by modern gas lamps. Following London, streets all over the world lit up very quickly.
Every single lamp had to be lit and put out by hand. As cities and villages got more laterns, more and more lamplighters were employed - each responsible for a certain area. The used a wooden ladder to climb up and open the glass doors of a latern. (Ever noticed a horizonal bar just below the lamp? That was for the ladder to lean against.) Then they used a long pole with a wick and a small hook attached to it to lit respectively to put out the flame.
Other duties of the lamplighters were to control and renew the candles and the oil when necessary, and as a result of their job, they often acted as watchmen.
During my research on this posts I found this curious bicycle, apparently used by lamplighters to ride from one latern to another. If they managed to balance 2 meter above the ground, that is. More curious bike designs can be found here.
By the way, I love that older job titles just described what the person did. No modality managers, environmental maintenance officers or whatsoever back in the days.
Die erste Gaslaterne der Welt in London: es wurde Licht (Spiegel.de)
Publication on gas lights in Edinburgh
Short blog posts on historic topics you may not have heard about before!