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Newsboys aka Newsies › Articles

Newspaper hawkers, aka newsboys or newsies - the boys, and sometimes girls, who sold newspapers on city streets around the turn of the 20th century.

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" That's what we hear when we think of newsies. But the actual plight of homeless children of the mid to late 1800's and the early 1900's doesn't fit the image of a well dressed young man yelling "Extra! Extra!". In 1872, one man wrote: "There are 10,000 children living on the streets of New York . . . The newsboys constitute an important division of this army of homeless children. You see them everywhere . . .They rend the air and deafen you with their shrill cries. They surround you on the sidewalk and almost force you to buy their papers. They are ragged and dirty. Some have no coats, no shoes and no hat." There was a reason for their tenacity - they had to support themselves, provide food and shelter, with just the pennies a day that they earned by buying papers from the publishers and selling them on the streets. Publishers profited handsomely on the profits they earned from these poor young boys - and sometimes girls.

By 1899, the practices of the publishers - especially William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer - were putting a squeeze on the newsboys. The children were forced to buy a set number of papers and they couldn't return the unsold copies, cutting into their profits. Hearst and Pulitzer had also raised the price of bulk papers while the selling price per copy remained the same. So the newsboys held a strike led by Kid Blink - he got his nickname because he was blind in one eye. Kid Blink declared: "Friens and feller workers. Dis is a time which tries de hearts of men. Dis is de time when we'se got to stick together like glue.... We know wot we wants and we'll git it even if we is blind." Their actions disrupted traffic in New York City and almost closed down the publishers.

The strike resulted in Hearst and Pulitzer promising to buy back unsold newspapers. But the children still worked long hours for pennies a day, living in whatever conditions they could find - for instance, two of the boys lived in an old burned-out safe they found on the street. It wasn't until child labor laws were instituted in the 1930's that newsies began to disappear.

These are the actual photos of newsies and their living conditions. Many of them will break your heart - they were taken by photographers who were trying to change their pitiful young lives.