American Newsboys


Figure 1.--Here we see newsboys in Nashville, Tennesee. The photograph is undated, but we would guess was taken about 1905-10. The newsboys all wear knickers. Notice that one boy wears a tie. I'm not sure abour the relatioinship of the news boys to the olkder boy at left. Note that there are no black boys in this group.

We do note boys selling newspapers in American during the late 19th century. We know less about other countries. Selling newspapers was an important source of income for boys from low-income urban families. The boys were called Newsies. Here we see New York newsboys at the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning before delivering their papers in the city. They wear typical newsboy clothes: outer jackets, knee pants, long black stockings, and flat caps. Note the adult on the left with a cigarette, probably one of the men supervising the boys. They seem to be between 12 and 14 years old. Many newsboys quit school and sold newspapers during the day. A reader writes us, "Don't know much about newsboys, but - talk of coincidences - a novel by Jon Boorstin, The Newsboys Lodging House" over the Christmas break. Set in the late 19th century in New York City, this story concerns the grown son of a wealthy Bostonian who investigates life at a newsies' lodging house founded by Horatio Alger. Alger, as you know, wrote prolifically, and some of his works include newsboys as characters. No particular titles come to mind. I'll finish reading it, though probably it will be a couple of weeks before I can send you a review, and hopefully some ideas about newsies. From what I've read so far, it appears that quite a few of the newsies were orphans who'd lead very tough lives." Boys continued selling newspapers, although child labor laws and school attendance laws were enacted during the 1910s and 320s. The Depression befinning in 1929 also had an impact. Jobs were so difficult to find during the Depression that men replaced newsboys. Child labor laws also became more strictly enforced. A shift occurred during the Depression era. Rather than selling newspapers on street corners, boys began increasingly deliveering newspapers door to door. I am not sure about the chronology involved here. I think the Saturday Evening Post was in the early 20th centuiry delivered by boys who had routes rather than mail. We note another shift which began in the 1980s with adults replacing boys with delivering newspapers. We note that immigrants are often involved.

Chronology

We do note boys selling newspapers in American during the late 19th century. Selling newspapers was an important source of income for boys from low-income urban families. Boys continued selling newspapers, although child labor laws and school attendance laws were enacted during the 1910s and 320s. The Depression befinning in 1929 also had an impact. Jobs were so difficult to find during the Depression that men replaced newsboys. Child labor laws also became more strictly enforced. A shift occurred during the Depression era. Rather than selling newspapers on street corners, boys began increasingly deliveering newspapers door to door. I am not sure about the chronology involved here. I think the Saturday Evening Post was in the early 20th centuiry delivered by boys who had routes rather than mail. We note another shift which began in the 1980s with adults replacing boys with delivering newspapers. We note that immigrants are often involved.

Terminology

The boys were called 'Newsies'. Another common term is 'news boy'.

Selling Methods

Early images show boys selling newspapers on the streets. This led to conflict between the boys for possesion of the best corners. Many boys quit school and sold newspapers during the day. This became less common as child labor laws and school attendance laws were established and enforced. Boys selling papers on city street corners was still very common in the 1900s, but thiswas much les common in the 1910s and virtually non-esistnt by the 20s. This varied from state to state. Child labor laws and mandatory school attendance laws tended to be weakest in the southern states. Boys continued, however, to earn money selling papers. Many got paper routes before and after school. I am not sure just when this became common. I do not think home delivery was very common in the 19th century, even the late-19th century. We begin to see boys with home delivery carrier bags. Some of the first hime delivery boys may have been those boys delivering the Saturday Evening Post. As far as we can tell, school boys eaning extra cash by delivering papers became a well-established boy activity. It was very definitely a boy activity. Paper girls were virtually unknown. State laws permitted this type of child labor, although there were normally age limits. Ironically employment opportunities for younh people were more limited by the 1920s than they are today. Thus paper routes were one of the major ways boys made mone during the mid-20th century.

New York Newspaper Strike (1899)

Newsboys staked their cklasinm to an important piece of America history. Thry launched and won one of the most notable American labor strikes. At the time labor unions were not often successful in their attempts at industrial action. The most important newspapers in America were located in New York. These newspapers and the yellow journalism they persued had played a major role in launching America into the Sopanish American War (1898). The sensational, often prefabricated stories about Spanish brutality in Cuba helped to sell newspapers. After the War, newspapers sales declined somewhat. In an effort to maintain income newspaper owners like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst increased the distribution price charged the newsies. Here there must have been some degree of collusioin among the owners. While they raised the distribution charge, the price of the newspapers was not changed. This mean that the owners were taking a substantial additiional share of the already small income that the newsies had been earning. Owners raised the distribution charges from $0.50 per hundred papers to $0.60. The newsies after enduring the higher prives for a few months finally went on strike. The launched their strike on July 21. It was a relatively short strike. It was settled August 2. The iowners did not compromise on the price. They did, however, make a major concession. The owners agreed to fully refund the newsies for all unsold papers.

Literature

A reader writes us, "Don't know much about newsboys, but - talk of coincidences - a novel by Jon Boorstin, The Newsboys Lodging House" over the Christmas break. Set in the late 19th century in New York City, this story concerns the grown son of a wealthy Bostonian who investigates life at a newsies' lodging house founded by Horatio Alger. Alger, as you know, wrote prolifically, and some of his works include newsboys as characters. No particular titles come to mind. I'll finish reading it, though probably it will be a couple of weeks before I can send you a review, and hopefully some ideas about newsies. From what I've read so far, it appears that quite a few of the newsies were orphans who'd lead very tough lives."

Clothing

The boys clothing varied over time. There may have also been regional differences. Perhaps the garment most associated with newsies is the flt cap, some times called a newsboy cap. Most newsies in the earkly 20th century wore knee pants and knicker suits with black long stockings. Some of the older boys wore long pnts. One image of New York newsboys at the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning before delivering their papers in the city. They wear typical newsboy clothes: outer jackets, knee pants, long black stockings, and flat caps. Note the adult on the left with a cigarette, probably one of the men supervising the boys. They seem to be between 12 and 14 years old. Another photograph of Chicagop newsboys in 1904 shows boiys wearing flost vaps and long pants suits. We wionder if the long pants was in part influenced by the fact that Chicago was a mid-western city rather than one of the more fashionable north-eastern cities. Much more common at the time are images like the one here with the boys wearing knicketrs with black long stockings. A Colorado photograph in 1914 shows almost all of the boys wearing knicker suits with long stockings.







HBC





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Created: 4:08 PM 12/28/2004
Last updated: 11:10 PM 3/31/2008