Carl Sandburg: Champion of the Working Class

What makes a man the way he is? Is it his family? Is it the way he was raised? Could it be that it is part of both of those things with the added spark of independence that is part of every person?

Carl Sandburg, the independent son of Swedish immigrant parents, became one of America's greatest poets by championing the average man. He was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878.

School didn't hold Carl's interest as a boy, and he quit going after he finished the eighth grade. He chose, instead, to work. He took many different jobs, including cutting ice, delivering milk, shining shoes, doing harvest labor work, and laying bricks.

In 1897, Sandburg decided to spend some time as a hobo. He traveled by train through several states: Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri. He worked odd jobs and got to know many of the men he traveled with, taking the pulse of America.

Sandburg returned home a few months later in time to sign up for service in the Spanish-American War. He joined too late to do any fighting but was still eligible for veterans' benefits. He used those benefits to attend Lombard College in his hometown for free. Under those circumstances, his lack of a high school diploma didn't matter.

In 1899, Sandburg was given a conditional appointment to attend West Point. His educational gaps left him unable to pass both math and grammar on his entrance exams. He returned to Lombard College. While at the college, he gained a new appreciation for poetry. He also found a serious mentor in poet Philip Green Wright. After Sandburg left college, Wright published four small leaflets for Sandburg on his small hand press from 1904-1910.

In 1902, Sandburg left college without achieving his degree and took to riding the rails as a hobo again. He was sometimes able to support himself by giving lectures on Lincoln, George Bernard Shaw, or Walt Whitman. He also sold stereoscopic pictures.

During this time, Sandburg also wrote for several small journals in Chicago. His dream was to be able to get on the traveling lecture circuits so he could entertain people.

While traveling, Sandburg came to blame capitalism for all of the problems he saw in society. He became convinced that socialism was a better system.

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