N is for Newsies. Newsies were young boys and girls who hawked newspapers on the streets of New York and other major cities across the US in the early 1900's.
Many of he children were orphans, homeless, living in the streets in groups. In the late 1890's there were an estimate 10,000 children living on the streets of New York City. The only thing that stood between their survival and starvation was the daily newspaper. Newsies bought one lot of 100 papers from the publisher for approximately 65 cents. IF the newsies sold every paper the profit he saw from his day's work was about thirty cents. Thirty cents which surely was needed to go towards the next days paper purchase. The boys would have to absorb the cost loss of any unsold papers at the end of the day.
When the Spanish American War filled the pages of the daily papers the cost of a lot of 100 papers went up to 85 cents. The thinking of the publishers (men like Pulitzer and Hearst) was that war sold more papers and therefore the increase was justified. Unfortunately, the cost increase was not realized in the price the public stayed the same. So, it was the street children who bore the brunt of the increase. When the war ended and newspaper sales began to slow, most publishers set the price for the bundles back tto 65 cents per hundred. With the exception of Hearst and Pulitizer. The continued to charge the boys and girls 85 cents per bundle.
Twenty cents may not seem like a lot of money, but in the early 1900's it was. To men like Pulitizer and Hearst, 20 cents may have been of little effect on their daily lives. To the orphans and homeless children of New York it meant the difference between a place to sleep, clothing, shoes, food and of course, the always essential next day's bundle of papers. Literally, it was the difference between life and death.
On July 20, a group of boys and girls, some as young as 6 years old brought the city of New York to a halt when they started the Newsie Strike of 1899. Led by several young men who had grown up in the newsie system, at the age of 13 or so, they were already tough, work hardened and astute in the workings of the newspaper system. Though they were not educated, they did know the strength of their numbers. Calling on all of the carriers to march in protest, they crowds of children walked onto the Brooklyn Bridge and onto the streets of the business district making it impossible for the publishers to distribute the papers. From July 20 until August 2, the children held out, despite being roughed up, terrorized, threatened by thugs hired by Hearst. Finally, Hearst and Pulitizer agreed to compromise. They would not lower the price of their newspaper bundles but they agreed to buy back any unsold papers each day.
This event was 'romantisized' in a movie called "Newsies", and also in a play by the same name. Produced by Disney Studios, the story line is some what of a 'life through rose colored glasses' view of the event.
Below are photos of some of the newsies that have been archived to document the lives of these children.
Next weeks letter O will be abou a 'solution' to dealing with those thousands of homeless street urchins in New York and other major East Coast cities.