History of North America

Hobo code, the secret language of the homeless during the Great Depression

After the First World War, a new world order was established, in which the United States, as a military and economic power, became the largest producer and exporter in the world. The profits obtained from abroad increased day by day, and Wall Street decided to turn its policy around and invest in the internal market (the collapsed European market could no longer absorb all the production). This economic injection increased the price of shares listed on the stock market. Profits increased disproportionately and nobody wanted to be left out. All the savings of the middle class went to Wall Street, the banks granted loans to buy shares, someone even said:

All Americans can get rich on the Stock Market

The Federal Reserve warned the banks to control the debt, but they did not listen. Nobody wanted to put the brakes on. Speculation drove stocks higher until the bubble burst on October 24, 1929 (Black Thursday). Millions of orders to sell shares were given but no one could buy them anymore, panic spread and the stock market crashed (Black Monday and Tuesday). People went to the banks to recover their savings, but there was no money (it was invested in shares and credits). Banks fell like a house of cards, businesses began to close, and unemployment spread across the country. Those were the years of the so-called Great Depression… and of this history.

With a precarious, temporary labor market with little supply, many people had no choice but to leave their homes, pick up a bundle and look for work whatever and wherever. These nomadic and transitory workers were called «hobos «, a kind of labor bums. And I say labor because they should not be confused with our concept of the vagabond, a wanderer who goes from one place to another without settling in any of them and lives on charity. These homeless people went from here to there looking for the opportunity to earn a few dollars. Covering their needs, usually food and little else, the rest of what they earned was to send to their families. Logically, the remuneration for their work was scarce, to say the least, so they had to look for life to save, from sneaking into freight trains to travel for free to plundering some food in fields or markets, with the risk of being arrested by the police. police or, worse yet, run into a bad-tempered farmer with his shotgun.

And repeating the saying that the most needy are the most supportive, they helped each other in everything they could. So, they created the Hobo Code , a secret language to warn of dangers, to travel safely, to facilitate the stay or, simply, to welcome other wanderers who passed by. In addition, they tried to ensure that the language of symbols, hieroglyphic type, did not attract attention and go unnoticed by the rest of mortals, so they used lines, circles and very basic graphics. Here are some of them…

And some more curious ones:

A kind lady lives here

Here lives a lady with a gun

Here lives a man with a gun

No limits