Hoboes, or tramps, were unskilled workers that traveled across America in large numbers between 1870 and 1940 seeking employment. Almost exclusively white, fluent English speakers, and overwhelmingly male, they often rode illegally on freight trains between cities and rural areas, where they found jobs in construction, on the railroads, or on farms. Sacrificing the respectability of settled male gender roles in exchange for freedom from social responsibility, hoboes were either demonized as hypermasculine predators who threatened the family or romanticized as freedom-loving wanderers. Yet their labor was critical to the expansion and consolidation of America's industrial economy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

For the few middle-class men that experienced hoboing, train riding and manual labor served as a rite of passage into a ...

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