20 Cryptic Hobo Symbols And The Secret Meanings Behind Them

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Image: Col. Albert S. Evans

Back in the mid-19th century, a new class of Americans emerged: hobos. Unlike derogatory terms such as “tramp,” the word “hobo” referred to a nomadic individual who traveled around different cities in search of work. However, life on the road could be dangerous. And as such, the community developed a series of symbols that they could mark on buildings and roads. These would indicate, for instance, safe places to camp, or areas where work was available. But to the untrained eye, they no doubt appeared incredibly cryptic, or indeed, meaningless. In fact, each and every symbol, no matter how simple, had its very own mysterious meaning…

Image: Sky Dancing

20. A cross inside a circle

Many hobo symbols are simple and similar for a reason. Indeed, as Susan Kare, Macintosh icons designer, put it, they originally had to be “clear to a group of people who were not going to be studying these for years in academia.” A basic cross inside a circle, for instance, indicated that handouts were available there.

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Image: Henry Dreyfuss via LOGO DESIGN LOVE

19. A ¾ circle with lines

There are two variations of this particular symbol. Indeed, one has the lines on the left, while the other has lines on the right. And it was crucial for hobos to know the difference between the two, because they had completely opposite meanings. In fact, lines on the left meant the owner of a property was in, while lines on the right meant they were out.

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