Tonight our story beings around 100 years ago in New York City. Every day new families were moving to New York. Some were traveling across the sea by boat to find new work. They came from Ireland, Italy and England looking for new places to work and to raise a family. Because of all of the work and people there New York was a busy, noisy place with many factories, stores and crowded streets.
Close your eyes and picture yourself standing on a streets of New York City at this time. You hear people walking and talking and horses trotting down the dirt roads. You smell fresh baked bread someone is selling on a corner, a whistle blows as work starts in a nearby factory. Men wear vests and caps, women wear dresses.
As you walk down the street you hear a boy calling from the corner. He is shouting loudly. You turn and walk toward him. You see that he is a small boy, with old, grimy clothes and holes in his shoes. He’s carrying a larger stack of newspapers and holding one high over his head.
“Read the headlines, Spanish-American War rages on!” He waves a paper at you. “Do you want to buy a paper?” he asks. You nod and hand him a coin and he hands you a newspaper and smiles. You look at the newspaper, the top of it reads “Spanish-American War” in big bold letters. You read about a war with pictures of ships sailing across the ocean and soldiers marching and firing their weapons.
The boy who sold you the newspaper was called a newsboy. In New York there were many young boys who didn’t have families — or sometimes they had families who were too poor and needed them to work. In American and other countries many young children worked to help pay for food and clothes and their homes. The newsboys would wake up early in the morning and go to the printer and buy newspapers for the day. Then they would carry their papers through the city and do whatever they could to sell these newspapers to make a little extra money. It wasn’t an easy life, but they did what they could to stay alive. Sometimes being a newsboy was dangerous as sometimes the boys fought over who could have the best corner in the city. The roads were also very dangerous with horses and carriages.
During the Spanish-American War it was easy for the newsboys to sell their papers, because everyone wanted to know what was going on during the war. There were many newspaper companies in the city, but the two largest ones were called The World, which owned by Joseph Pulitzer and The Journal, which was owned by William Randolph Hearst. During the war Pulitzer and Hearst increased the cost of their newspapers, because they knew everyone wanted the news so badly they okay paying more for it. Pulitzer and Hearst also competed between each other for the better journalists and cartoonists. Newspapers were very popular at the time because there was no other way to get the news like the TV or Internet today. Often the newspapers made up stories to get more people to buy them. This wasn’t very honest and was called “Yellow Journalism.”
When the Spanish-American War ended not as many people were buying the newspapers so it became very hard for the newsboys to sell them. No matter how hard they tried to sell their papers, everyone wasn’t as interested to buy them as they were before. On top of this, the newspaper owners had made the papers more expensive, so people weren’t as willing to buy. The newsboys knew if they wanted to stay alive they would need to come up with a plan to change the newspaper companies minds. But newspaper owners like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were very powerful men with lots of money, so to go against them would take a lot of hard work and determination.
One popular newsboy was named Louis Ballett, but everyone called him Kid Blink, because he had a patch over one of his eyes. Kid Blink and other newsboys decided to band together and not sell newspapers. If enough newsboys joined them they thought maybe Pulitzer and Hearst would change their mind. This is called a strike. Kid Blink and other newsboys told other boys about their plan and soon none of the boys all across New York were selling papers. This was hard for the boys because if they weren’t making any money, they didn’t have food to eat. But they were determined to make a difference. On one day of the strike they all gathered on Brooklyn Bridge. There were so many newsboys that even the traffic had to stop! People all over New York City saw what the newsboys were doing and wanted to help them. They decided they wouldn’t buy newspapers from Pulitzer and Hearst either. Pulitzer and Hearst tried to hire older men to sell their papers but no one would help, because they believed in the newsboys cause. Kid Blink and his friends kept giving speeches. In one speech Kid Blink said: ““Friens and feller workers. This 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.”
After many days the newspaper companies were losing so much money they had no choice but to change what they were doing. They decided instead of making the boys buy all of the papers, at the end of the day they would buy back what they hadn’t sold. Finally the strike was over and the newsboys could go back to selling papers. Everyone was amazed that a group of small boys could change the minds of such powerful people such as Pulitzer and Hearst. Because of what these boys did many other workers over the years had strikes. Sometimes it is necessary to strike if people need better places to work, deserve better pay. It’s one way to keep a balance between workers and company owners. The Newsboys Strike of 1899 became an important part of workers rights history.
When I was younger, Disney made a movie about the newsboys strike called Newsies. If you haven’t seen it yet you will have to check it out, it will give you a little idea of what these boys did to make a difference. Later the movie became a Broadway Musical, which did very well and can also be seen on TV if you look for it.
Like the newsboys, it’s important to learn how to work when you are still small. You may not be working on the streets like they did, but you can help around your house and in the yard, pick up your toys, do the dishes, or do other helpful chores. Also, when you aren’t treated with respect like the newsboys you can stand up for yourselves. Everyone deserves respect and to be treated well, no matter their size. Be sure to speak up and stand up for what is right even when it takes lots of courage and isn’t easy to do.