The Tramp Printers
Forgotten Trails of the
by Charles Overbeck
The tramp printer was a typesetting troubadour with a story in lieu of a song, a scholarly hobo, and a master of the type case. Carrying a union journeyman’s card, a few basic tools, and little else, these “itinerant” or “tourist” typographers criss-crossed the continent for more than a century, train-hopping from newspaper to newspaper, following the railroad tracks like fish following a river, chasing the seasons like migrating birds.
They lived without belongings, without homes, and without romantic entanglements, traveling freely in spite of the hardships of the road. To the tramp printer, personal autonomy and adventure were far more valuable than material possessions. Many of them were brilliant, literate individuals who were nevertheless possessed by a predilection for bacchanalian debauchery. The tramps helped each other over the hard places and spread the craft of printing along the way. And by standing strong in solidarity, journeymen printers fought for the eight-hour day — and won.
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