We tend to think of major industries as the kind of thing that take a while to fade away. When an industry is really big, what's going to stop it, right? Wrong. When was the last time you used a house phone or pay phone?
The invention of the mobile phone took out two major industries right there. One Reddit user asked:
What single moment killed off an entire industry?
And apparently it's not just cell phones that are savage murderers. We learned a lot of really interesting things here, like aluminum used to be rare and precious, not foil we all have in our cabinets - and maybe we lit whales on fire for light? Here are some of the best responses, edited for clarity or language where needed.
Aluminum Used To Be Rare
A rare, incredibly valuable (more than gold) metal was made nearly completely worthless by the invention of the Hall-Héroult process in 1886. That metal was aluminum. The two men invented a process that used electrodes in a hot slurry to break apart the compounds containing the metal and metallic aluminum gathers on the cathode.
The Washington Monument, completed in 1884, has a 100 ounce aluminum tip which was displayed at Tiffany's before installation because it was such a novelty at the time. It was the largest solid block of the most valuable metal in the world at the time.
In the United States, railroads killed the canal business. Canal companies knew it was coming and tried to stop the railroads at every turn. Consequently, the same thing happened to railroads as cars and airplanes gained popularity.
Chile had lots of saltpeter mines. They are all abandoned now because of the creation of synthetic saltpeter by Germany in 1909. My great-grandfather came from Germany to Chile to work in the saltpeter mines at the time of the saltpeter boom in Chile just so that a few years later Germany, his country of origin, would take away his job by creating synthetic saltpeter (the worst of lucks in the history of my family.)
No Need To Go The Long Way
The opening of Panama canal (and other notable canals) immediately ended entire strings of industries built upon now-obsolete shipping lanes. This devastated ports along the South American coastlines. There was no need to go to long way around so these cities just withered away. Valparaiso, Chile was one of the richest cities in South America as the largest port on the Pacific Coast. And the Canal decimated its traffic, leaving the elaborate 19th century houses to fall into disrepair and blight.
Beavis and Butthead killed the band Winger. Within weeks of the first episode featuring the nerdy Stuart character wearing a Winger t-shirt, the band cancelled their arena tour and their record sales plummeted. Kip Winger even came out years later saying he forgives the show for murdering his band.
Save The Whales
Electric and gas lighting killed a major chunk of the whaling industry - but I prefer to say it saved the whales. Over 100 years ago they were near extinction because whale blubber was used to light Street lights. Electric and gas lights came in and almost overnight whales weren't needed in their numbers for their blubber and they were saved.
The Comedian Who Killed Beer
Local thing, but here in the Netherlands somewhere in the nineties "Buckler beer" was marketed as a zero alcohol beer.
Then a Dutch comedian "Youp van het hek" did a 10 second bit about how only wankers would drink that, and suddenly their market share dropped to zero and the entire brand was taken out of the market.
Because of one 10 second part in a show by a well known comedian .
There's those pictures from like 1910 of New York where the whole street is just horse drawn carriages, then pictures from 1920 where its just cars. Ford model T/ affordable motorcars killed off the horse industry very quickly.
A weird perspective that a New York tour guide gave us was that, at that time, cars were seen as the salvation of air quality. No more horse dump in the street, you could breath without smelling of a stable, somethingsomething dead horses. It was really interesting to think about.
Hindenburg killed the blimp and airship industry in the cradle. It could have been a good industry once a few kinks were worked out. The Empire State building was even designed with the idea of being a station for airships. But the fact that the crash was caught on film, and was the first disaster to be caught on film just killed everyone's enthusiasm for airships. Understandably.
Hindenburg was very much the final nail in the coffin for people of the time as they could see the disaster and hear the reactions.
Not So Elite
Seth Petruzelli killed an entire fight organization when he knocked out Kimbo Slice with one punch.
EliteXC was an up and coming MMA promotion that put all its eggs in one basket. They had a deal on CBS which was huge at the time because even the UFC didn't have fights airing on a big network. They were still airing fights on Spike TV. The people running EliteXC decided to run a ton of promotions around Kimbo being the next great MMA star. They had Gina Carano fighting on the same card and still went with focusing most of their attention to Kimbo. When Ken Shamrock (Kimbo's original opponent for that night) got injured, they replaced him Seth. Seth had much more MMA experience than Kimbo. The fight started, then ended. Kimbo was laid out on the canvas in only 14 seconds. Their star just got knocked out from 1 shot. That was the last show EliteXC put on.
Semiconductors used to be made of germanium. May 10, 1954 - in one demonstration, a silicon amplifier was dipped in boiling oil, and continued to operate. There was a "stampede" for the phones in the audience. Just imagine... everything silicon today could have been germanium.
It's funny, the early fuzz effects (think "satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones and "purple haze" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience) for guitar and bass in the early to mid 60s were all made with germanium transistors, but by the end of the 60s most were made with silicon due to temperature stability, availability, and other conveniences. Today you're gonna pay a premium for germanium powered effects.
Germanium is a more expensive material than silicon, so germanium-based parts will always be more expensive. One of the big benefits of silicon is that it's one of the most common elements on Earth.
Germanium parts are still in use today though. Germanium diodes and transistors have a lower voltage drop than silicon alternatives which makes them better suited for dealing with low voltages. Radios for example often use a germanium diode to convert the signal from the antenna.
Just imagine all those people working in germanium valley.
The invention of the refrigerator.
At the time, transporting ice was the most profitable journey in the world, second in volume only to the silver trade from south America.
The Cotton Gin. In 1793 precisely at 11:24am on a Tuesday in July, Eli Whitney killed the entire "Manual Cotton Separation" game with the Cotton gin.
Conversely, he saved slavery in the american south.
Which was the opposite of what he wanted. Kinda funny how you could want to kill an industry for good, and then single handedly revitalize it on accident.
You Wood'nt Say
Fiberglass completely changed the boating industry. It drastically slowed the deforestation of exotic hard woods. Changed the designs and performance of boats. Changed from skilled wood workers to more of assembly line set up.