600,000 newspaper boys -- 8/13/14

Today's selection -- from Little Merchants by Sandra Walker. Children sold paper [news] sheets in colonial times, and with the advent of the penny paper in 1833 even larger numbers became newspaper handlers. By 1962, there were 600,000 "paperboys," thanks in part to exemptions from Depression-era child labor laws for youths involved in distributing newspapers if they were at least twelve years of age. (The labor laws also exempted youths involved in acting, baby sitting, farm work, a family business, and making Christmas wreaths):

"On September 4, 1833, Benjamin Day sent little urchins onto the crowded, bustling streets of New York City, into coffee houses and taverns shouting and waving his new production, the Sun newspaper. For one cent men read the news sold to them on the spot. Mr. Day's successful paper spawned more penny newspaper businesses, until every crowded city teemed with hustling ragamuffms eager to earn a few coins selling sheets of news. Publishers could depend on an abundant supply of little merchants to call out the latest edition. The 'newsey' became a common American icon.

"And Mr. Day's success increased. In five years the Sun had a circulation of 30,000, the largest in the world. As the 1830s ended and additional competitive publishers emerged, the newspaper business raced forward. Selling penny papers continued into the twentieth century. ... With the growing urban population, with electricity lighting city houses, the shift to the home delivery system increased. Residents appreciated their newspaper companion.

"As Professor George Douglas explained in The Golden Age of the Newspaper, 'In the 1920s the American newspaper reached the pinnacle of its glory -- and influence.' This was a decade when public trust in journalists and editors excelled, when radio stations did not yet compete with publications. Douglas's statement expressed more than a narrow assessment of the number of papers sold, because three decades later in the 1950s the population soared to over 151 million Americans and total newspaper sales exploded as well. Actually, 1950 sales statistics state, 'increases more than twice as great percentage-wise as increases in the population.' ...

One of America's youngest newsboys,
photographed by Lewis Hine, 1903

"By the time children entered middle school, they acquired two or three jobs based on their paper route experience. The first year-round job was augmented by seasonal work -- picking berries, mowing lawns, harvesting apples, hauling coal, shoveling snow, all sandwiched between daily home chores. ...

"In 1940 Henry McDaniel conducted a country-wide study of paperboys and their school progress for his Ph. D. at Columbia University. He opened his dissertation with: 'Every day more than 39,000,000 newspapers, the world's most perishable commodity, are delivered to consumers. An army of 350,000 boys is involved in the high speed distribution. ...

"The Tacoma News Tribune circulation office praised ... carriers at a banquet for Newspaperboy Day on October 20, 1962, as the national organization of circulation managers applauded America's 600,000 paperboys."


Sandra L. Walker


Little Merchants: The Golden Era of Youth Delivering Newspapers


Orion Wellspring, Inc.


Copyright 2013 by Sandra Walker


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