I could go on at some length about how miniatures reflect the ways D&D has changed since I was a young person, but a picture is worth a thousand words. With that in mind, I give you the contents of Grenadier Miniatures' boxed set of hirelings for their official AD&D line:
The very fact that Grenadier produced an entire boxed set filled with torch bearers, guys toting treasure chests, and even a "potion tester" (he's figure E in the image above) tells you far more about the way D&D was played back in the day than I ever could. Old school D&D was not a game in which a small band of hyper-competent heroes braved the dangers of the world with only their swords, spells, and wits to protect them. No, they had a veritable army of hirelings and henchmen to assist them and these guys all got a share of the loot in exchange for their assistance. Considering that the life expectancy of a hireling could be measured in minutes in some cases, those that survived the dungeon certainly earned their share.
I have lots of fond memories of hirelings in my old adventures and campaigns. I had much fun roleplaying the lucky few who survived, some of whom even graduated to becoming full-fledged PCs when one of their betters became the victim of undiscovered trap or unavoidable death effect. Although the high mortality rate of hirelings could be played for laughs -- and sometimes was -- I often found it a useful way to emphasize the grimness of dungeon delving. Likewise, killing off a hireling was a good way for me to warn my players when they were behaving in a reckless or foolhardy fashion. They didn't always get the hint when their halfling scout never returned from venturing up ahead "into the source of that strange sound," but no one could ever claim I wasn't giving them a fair shake.
The loss of hirelings as an integral part of the D&D experience is, I think, another example of how the game of today and the game published in 1974 really don't have a lot in common.