Hitch-hiking in The London Times
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By 1940 hitch-hiking had left such a mark on the social landscape that in America there appeared a College of Hitch-hikers aiming perhaps naively to organise the inherently unorganisable.The London Times reported the college, and I've been unable to trace any other references to it thus far. It's not likely to have been a very large or long-lasting phenomenon I suspect. The Times' article is reproduced here. 

The London Times February 23rd 1940
A College of Thumbers

If any man has hitherto been the symbol of freedom, he is the hitch-hiker. His brother, who travels by rail but without a ticket, has to do so furtively and in fear of penalties. But the hitch-hiker who travels free by road is always above-board. His face and his beseeching thumb are his fortune, and he moves erratically in other people's cars across the great American Continent. It is consequently something of a portent and a warning to learn that even the hitchhiker is now being organized, that there is a College of Hitch-Hikers, and that membership gives the right to the letters R.C.T., which stand for Registered Collegiate Thumber. The advantages are a card of respectability which can be waved before hesitant motorists whose heads are too full of crime stories for them to stop without misgiving. The subscription is a mere half-dollar, and the reward is membership of the (pedestrian) aristocracy of the road. 

If Governments and businesses have all followed the policy of organization ever more thoroughly, hitch-hikers cannot be blamed for forming their College; but the principle is rather an ugly one. It will be but a step before the R.C.T. expects his lift because of his status, and another step for him to threaten to report the uncivil motorist to his College, the number of the car to be circularized so that all hitch-hikers may know there is a hog within. What began as a genial favour between man and man will become the high incensed and fell opposed fronts of mighty opposites; for the motorists too have their Colleges to uphold and admire them, and a sign may appear on the bonnets of cars indicating that on this journey the car is going nowhere useful and is too pressed to give lifts. What hitch-hikers really need, if they are to rely on their transport, is some way of Making it quite plain, as they stand in the road, that they have no gun nor skill in striking sudden blows; and only nudist hikers can give the first assurance, and no human being can give the second, short of appearing in handcuffs, which would also have its deterrent effect. There is, alas, no way for the good to show in advance to strangers how very good they are, and no amount of asseveration, of "Cor Guv'nor" or "Swelp me it's the truth," can create that total conviction which the motorist, his hands and eyes preoccupied, would like so much. But we imagine the R.C.T. will have a ready solution for this nervousness. Another and really superior member of the Thumbers will travel in the car as a precaution, sitting behind and keeping watch. For it is not in the nature of organizations to refrain from growing, and, now that there is a College and status, there will be more hitch-hikers and more insistence. In this country HIS MAJESTY'S uniform serves all the purposes of membership to the R.C.T. and secures entry into what private cars there are. This is really the bitter way, by which the claim to consideration rests on other grounds than being an organised claimant. But we can understand the temptation to organize, since men understand hierarchical order, and like it, provided there is at least one class below themselves. Nothing showed greater genius in a BRIGHAM YOUNG than his explanation that each successive Mormon wife would hereafter be the servant of the wife immediately senior to her; so that there was always a welcome by the junior wife for the newcomer. So, too, is it understood that there must be cats in offices and kitchens. And so, too, the organized hiker can now look down on the unorganized hiking mob. There are people to whom it really makes a good deal of difference whether the ills that befall them come from a high or low quality source. They think it a harder fate to perish in Ashanti than in a great European war, and very much bitterer to be killed by an errand-boy's bicycle than by a Rolls-Royce. For them it will be a consideration that the tramps who accost them are graduates of a Tramps' College, that any blackmail which comes their way is of the highest grade, and that those who button-hole and bore them in ships or hotel lounges have a badge to show, in proof of proficiency and years of experience. 

An interesting article on hitch-hiking appeared in The Times in 1959. It marks an interesting time in the evolution of hitch-hiking. The Times German correspondent writes about the increasing popularity of hitch-hiking around Europe, something that became popular after the war years. He notes ironically that Germans seem to prefer walking. Ironic, because Germany has become one of the greater hitch-hiking nations in the world, a place where hitch-hikers are regularly seen the summer through, often in queues and travel by thumb is both fast and friendly. The article is reproduced here.  

The London Times October 1st 1959

From Our Own Correspondent

Walking holidays have been largely motorized in western Europe, if personal observation is any guide. Few walkers are seen trudging along the roads, even side roads; instead, at the exits of most towns groups of people are always waiting to be taken by passing motorists to the next town, or to some romantic place on a distant southern shore that most motorists have only read about in the expensive magazines. Hitch-hiking appears to have replaced old-fashioned walking and has obviously graduated into a recognized pursuit, ready perhaps to be nurtured and protected by an international organization empowered to negotiate with transport Ministers and police chiefs. The early roomanticism and furtiveness have for the most part gone: if the world does not owe the hitch-hiker a living - comparisons have been made between confirmed European hitch-hikers and American beatniks - its motorists certainly owe him a lift to St. Tropez or North Cape. 

Well-Defined Groups

Youth is the common denominator, but hitch-hikers fall into well defined groups. Many, perhaps a majority, really do not qualify. In urgent need of cheap transport, they will occasionally raise a tentative thumb at the kerbside because they have heard that the roads are full of motorists anxious to take them to Munich, Zurich, Copenhagen, or Rome. They are easily recognised. Lacking finesse, they tend to be over-anxious or over-confident. They have little patience, and after a string of empty cars have refused to stop they begin to mutter about world revolution. The true hitch-hiker is prepared to wait, even perhaps choose his vehicle. Patience, technique, and confidence are qualities separating him from the amateur. His gesture is neither a violent distress signal nor is it obsequious. He does not cluster with other hitch-hikers or wait at places where it is difficult for motorists to stop. Most of all confidence separates him from the rest. 

Air of Mystery

There is the hitch-hiker who travels with an enormous rucksack festooned with cooking pots and spare boots, confident that the next car with a boot too small for a weekend bag will stop. Often it does. There is the hitch-hiker, impeccably dressed in the modern youthful manner, wearing perhaps a suede jacket that most owner-drivers could not possibly afford to buy after paying the latest instalment: he tends to look for only big cars, and sinks back on to the rear seat in arrogant silence. There are others, like the one seen standing on the approach road to the Autobahn near Hanover holding a placard reading "Venice"; or those who fly national flags from their packs, presumably unwilling to mix with foreigners. All have a certain detachment. There is no loquacity and no curiosity. They generate a feeling of mystery, and never volunteer why they wander over the face of western Europe for the most part clean and well dressed but with no visible means of support. 

Miles of Paths

West germany is a good place to watch their ceaseless migrations, situated as it is at the waist of western Europe. The international character of the movement is made obvious, the more so because Germans seem to have missed the bus. There are, of course, west German hitch-hikers, but, perhaps because free transport is no longer the necessity it was after the immediate post-war years, it does not seem to be a widespread movement. While the number of cars has doubled in recent years, a great many west Germans still prefer to walk. Perhaps the romanticism of the Wandervoegeln still persists; many young walkers still carry guitars and wear dark blue blouses. At any rate 8,272,000 spent the night last year in west Germany's 719 youth hostels. As the number of youth hostels indicates, there are many opportunities for indulging a romanticism that would not survive long in a car. Perhaps nowhere else are there such wonderful facilities for walking. If few walkers are to be seen on the road it is because there are hunders of miles of well sign-posted paths for walkers to follow. It is possible, for instance, to walk along footpaths from Bonn to Bingen, and this is only one of the many main walking routes. All rambling societies maintain subsidiary paths in their localities. Signposting and maps are excellent. The countryside, especially the woods, is not only handsome but at convenient stages and in the mst unlikely places are little taverns selling beer and sausage, or offering a bed for a few schillings. German romanticism may help to keep alive the desire to wander, but German facilities make it possible.