The First and Last Chance
As a boy, Jack London sold newspapers and frequented the Oakland waterfront. After eighth grade, he worked in a cannery for 10 cents an hour with shifts of 10 to 20 hours. He hated the job and quit. At 15 he made good money as an oyster pirate. Barely 17, he sailed before the mast on a schooner hunting seals on the north coast of Japan. He got back in seven months and started high school. More
During Jack London’s last years in grammar school, he lived in West Oakland, the working-class district, which bordered the bay and the estuary. He frequented the water front, did odd jobs, delivered newspapers, and sold stuff to the rags-bottles-sacks men.
After the eighth grade, at fifteen, he had to get a real job to help support the household. He worked at Hickmott’s cannery on Myrtle Street, tending a machine for a minimum of 10 hours a day at 10 cents an hour, but usually he worked longer, 18 to 20 hours with very little extra pay for the overtime. Jack wore himself out, making about 50 dollars a month. He hated the job, felt trapped, and rebelled.
Before he was sixteen, he was an oyster pirate. It was a dangerous job, but he was able to make 25 dollars a day. It was quite the rollicking adventure until his boat caught fire. He went to work for the fish patrol for a while, but quit to get back to Oakland, where he worked odd jobs on the water front.
A harpooner befriended Jack and talked him into working as his boat puller on the next seal hunting voyage to the north coast of Japan. On January 20, 1893, Jack London, barely seventeen, signed articles of the Sophia Sutherland, a three masted schooner of one hundred fifty odd tons. The voyage took seven months, and it was the only time Jack served before the mast. For fifty-one days, he saw no land but Hawaii on the way to Japan. One might wonder how Jack felt when he first experienced the vastness of the ocean.
When he got home, he started high school. He had decided to further his education and pursue a writing career.
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