National Hobo Museum

99 Counties | FIND Iowa
Jul 19, 2024 | 00:02:46

How do you think hobos have impacted Iowa over time?

Britt, Iowa is home to the National Hobo Museum and the National Hobo Convention. Hobos have played an important role in this community and in our state.


Abby Brown:

Inside this old movie theater is a celebration of a lifestyle that included trains, hard work, and a community of people who fiercely supported each other. This is the National Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa. There are artifacts here from the old hobo days like the ball and cage carving, a traditional piece of hobo art. You might be wondering what is a hobo? Well, a hobo is a traveling worker who used trains to get from place to place and job to job. The "bo" part of the word hobo is short for boys. The "ho" comes from the tool, a hoe, which is what some workers traveled with back in the Civil War days when they were soldiers stopping to work in towns along the train ride home. Hobos would camp in what they called jungles, places where they could eat, sleep, and refresh for the next job. Some of the famous American hobos had interesting names. Like Minneapolis Jewel, Redbird Express, and Steamtrain Maury There was also a hobo code of written symbols that signaled places to find food, water, or healthcare; and even signs of danger. Britt is not only home to the National Hobo Museum, they also host the National Hobo Convention every year! They even crown a hobo king and queen. During the Great Depression, there were about 250,000 hobos. Because a main part of being a hobo was hopping onto the boxcar of a train without a ticket, hobos don't really exist anymore. These days hopping onto trains is illegal and monitored closely. But, there are still people who consider themselves hobos at heart. The hobo way of life may be a thing of the past, but hobo history is alive and well, here in Britt, Iowa.

Every county in Iowa has a unique cultural story to tell. It's been a fun journey exploring Hancock County.