From Academic Kids

A hobo is a member of a distinctive sub-culture of homeless, travelling workers in the United States. Hobo culture was most popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is particularly associated with the railroads, as hobos have the reputation for freighthopping—hitching free rides from place to place in the baggage cars of trains.

Hobos generally apply the term hobo only to itinerant people who work. In contrast, they define a tramp as a itinerant person who does not work, and supports himself by other means e.g. begging or scavenging. Alternatively, a tramp is somebody who prefers to walk or hitchhike rather than ride the rails. A bum is a homeless person who neither travels nor works. Both are terms of derision within the hobo community.

The population of hobos increased during times of economic trouble, and their numbers increased greatly during the Great Depression. With no work and no prospects at home, many decided to travel and try their luck elsewhere.

Nowadays there are few railroad-riding hobos left, though there are still small numbers of them. Some itinerant individuals today travel by car rather than rail, but still identify themselves as hobos.

Life as a hobo was a dangerous one. In addition to the problems of being itinerant poor far from home and support, and the hostile attitude of many train crews, the railroads employed their own security staff, often nicknamed bulls or dicks. These showed little mercy to hobos they found. If that wasn't enough, riding on a freight train is highly dangerous. One can easily fall under the wheels or get trapped between cars, or freeze to death in bad weather. When freezer cars were loaded at an ice factory, any hobo inside was likely to be killed. Hobos tended to band together for protection and formed an informal "brotherhood".


Hobo symbols

To cope with the difficulty of hobo life, hobos developed a system of symbols. Hobos would write these symbols with chalk or coal to provide directions, information, and warnings to other hobos. Some signs included "turn right here", "beware of hostile railroad police", "dangerous dog", "food available here", and so on. Naturally, hobo symbols would vary from place to place around the country.

Hobos in media

Fiction books

Nonfiction books

  • Jack Kerouac: The Dharma Bums and On The Road
  • Ted Conover: Rolling Nowhere
  • Jack London: The Road
  • Woody Guthrie: Bound for Glory
  • Jack Black: You Can't Win
  • Jim Tully: Beggars of Life
  • Eddie Joe Cotton: Hobo
  • WH Davies: The Autobiography of a Supertramp
  • Errol Lincoln Uys: Riding the Rails
  • Todd DePastino: Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America
  • A-No-1: From Coast to Coast with Jack London
  • Lloyd Morain: The Human Cougar
  • Edward Abbey: The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West
  • Gypsy Moon: Done and Been: Steel Rail Chronicles of American Hobos
  • Daniel Leen: The Freighthoppers Manual for North America
  • Anonymous: Evasion



See Also

External links



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