The tough job of a newsboy—buying copies of a paper from the publisher, then reselling enough on the street to scratch out a profit—originated in Manhattan in 1833.
That’s when an Irish immigrant kid answered an ad run by the sensationalist New York Sun looking for unemployed men to take on “vending this paper.”
“The first unemployed person to apply for a job selling the Sun was a 10-year-old boy, Bernard Flaherty, born in Cork,” recalls Munsey’s Magazine in 1917.
He couldn’t have realized it at the time, but Barney, as he was known, paved the way for thousands of newsboys after him in the 19th century. It was a gritty, unglamourous way to make a living:
“The majority of these boys live at home, but many of them are wanderers in the streets, selling papers at times, and begging at others,” writes James McCabe in 1873’s Lights and Shadows of New York Life.
“Formerly, these little fellows suffered very much from exposure and hunger. In the cold nights of winter, they slept on the stairways of the newspaper offices, in old boxes and barrels, under door steps, and sometimes sought a ‘warm bed’ on the street gratings of the printing offices, where the warm steam from the vaults below could pass over them.”
No wonder late 19th century social reformers opened “lodging houses” for newsboys and other kids who worked or lived on the streets.
[Photos: New York newsies, 1908 and 1910, from the Library of Congress]