The World of Tomorrow: The Changing Face of Labor

Nels Anderson published Men On The Move in 1940, not even twenty years after his study of The Hobo was written. In The Hobo he described the conditions in Chicago, the social life and the outlines of West Madison Street, the midwestern hub of the seasonal labor market. In the Introduction to Men On The Move, a study of the new face of migratory labor, Anderson noted his own failure back in 1923 to acknowledge the great technological changes taking place.
Chicago in 1923 was the middle western market for seasonal labor, but it was then in the last days of that market. The men who called West Madison Street the "slave market," who lived there a type of social life of their own, were a class of men quite apart from other worker groups. They were a society with a culture. It was the effort of the writer in The Hobo to report that life and culture. He didn't know then that the culture he described was already on its way to distinction.1

Technological devices at that time were changing the various fields of labor that afforded the hobo his livelihood. Ice-making machinery would replace the old traditional ice harvesting on the lakes. Dredges and drag lines would replace team outfits on the levee work. Both lumbering and harvesting were increasingly mechanized.2

mechanized farming in kerr county, california

In addition to the loss of many traditional seasonal jobs, the completion of the industrial system of the United States also closed the gap on the hobo. According to Monkkonen, in 1870, an outline of that future system existed, "but the infrastructure, the roads, rails, bridges, sewers, water systems, houses, and buildings, had only begun to be built."3 Once the West was laid out, built up, and filled up with people, the need for tramps - in the itinerant labor sense of the word - would disappear. It is interesting that the closing of the tramp's frontier followed the closing of the territorial frontier by about thirty years.4

The Changing Face of Migrants