Posts Tagged ‘newsies’

The first newsboy to hit the streets of New York

December 27, 2011

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]

The successful newsboy strike of 1899

October 26, 2009

Hawking newspapers in the 19th century was hard work. Rather than working for the newspaper itself, a newsboy—usually a kid or young teen from a poor family, often homeless himself—had to buy copies of the paper from the publisher, then sell them independently.

An estimated 10,000 newsboys worked the streets of New York City. Publishers wouldn’t buy back unsold copies of their papers, which made it tough for a kid to eke out a profit.

Newsboystrike1899

Newsboys plying their trade on the Brooklyn Bridge. Those bundles look heavy.

In 1899, the Evening World and Evening Journal started charging newsboys 60 cents for a hundred copies of their papers, a hike from 50 cents. Pissed off, thousands of newsboys went on strike. They held protests all over Manhattan and got into fights with men and boys hired by the papers as replacement workers.

But the strike worked—somewhat. After a few weeks of gloating media coverage in other New York City papers, the publishers agreed to buy back unsold newspapers, though they did not scale back the original price.