Most hobos lived a life of anonymity, but some became famous!
Jack Black was a late-19th-century/early-20th-century hobo and professional burglar. He wrote You Can't Win - a memoir or sketched autobiography describing his days on the road and life as an outlaw.
The book tells of Black's experiences in the hobo underworld, freight-hopping around the western United States and Canada, with the majority of incidents taking place from the late 1880s to around 1910. He tells of becoming a thief, burglar, and member of the yegg (safe-cracking) subculture, exploring the topics of crime, criminal justice, vice, addictions, penology, and human folly from various viewpoints, from observer to consumer to supplier, and from victim to perpetrator.
Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund and also known as Joseph Hillström, was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, familiarly called the "Wobblies"). A native Swedish speaker, he learned English during the early 1900s, while working various jobs from New York to San Francisco. Hill, an immigrant worker frequently facing unemployment and underemployment, became a popular songwriter and cartoonist for the union. His most famous songs include "The Preacher and the Slave" (in which he coined the phrase "pie in the sky"), "The Tramp", "There is Power in a Union", "The Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones—the Union Scab", which express the harsh and combative life of itinerant workers, and call for workers to organize their efforts to improve working conditions.
In 1914, John G. Morrison, a Salt Lake City area grocer and former policeman, and his son were shot and killed by two men. The same evening, Hill arrived at a doctor's office with a gunshot wound, and briefly mentioned a fight over a woman. Yet Hill refused to explain further, even after he was accused of the grocery store murders on the basis of his injury. Hill was convicted of the murders in a controversial trial. Following an unsuccessful appeal, political debates, and international calls for clemency from high-profile figures and workers' organizations, Hill was executed in November 1915. After his death, he was memorialized by several folk songs. His life and death have inspired books and poetry.
"Steam Train Maury" Graham (June 3, 1917 – November 18, 2006) was best known as five-time holder of the title "King of the Hobos", and was later known as "Patriarch of the Hobos". Born to a broken home in Ohio, he was shunted from father to mother to aunt to married siblings. In 1931, at the age of 14, Graham began riding the rails as a hobo during the Great Depression. He settled in Toledo, Ohio with his wife Wanda in the late 1930s, and worked as a cement mason and founded a trade school for masons. During World War II, he served in the military as a medical technician. In 1969 he returned to the hobo life for another eleven years, finally retiring in 1980.
Maury Graham adopted the nickname "Steam Train" in 1969, when the "Golden Spike Special" steam train came through Ohio, returning home from the 100th anniversary of the completion of the first US transcontinental railroad. He was one of the founding members of the National Hobo Foundation. He also helped established the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa.