During the Progressive Era there were many successful reforms including Unions and Child Labor Reforms. Use your knowledge about this era along with the following documents and questions to answer:
Who are the newsboys? Why did they strike? What impact did their strike have on Progressive Era reform? How does it affect you today?
By: Andirea White & Joshua Browning
In response to the many problems of the Gilded Age, the American work force began to actively seek change. Big business bosses such as the steel industries Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller of Standard Oil, and competitors Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst of the news industry defined the age. These millionaires represented the so-called “American dream,” but really portrayed something much different from reality. Just as rotting wood can be gilded to appear gold, the reality of the “American dream” was far from what it appeared. Millions of laborers, mostly farmers moving to the city, but also many immigrants, women, and children, flooded the cities and factories looking for work. Looking for big profits the bosses, such as Carnegie and Hearst, lowered wages and working conditions. As conditions worsened the situation became tense and many laborers sought ways to improve their circumstances.
Laborers did not just consist of factory employees but also included other trade jobs such as delivery boys, laundry employees, and of course the newsboy. Conditions for these workers could be just as harsh as those in the factories especially when one considers their young age (sometimes as young as 4 or 5). Each day the boys would arrive before sunrise to buy their papers. Instead of being given papers to sell and being paid a salary, the newsboys would buy a stack of newspapers from the company at a set price per paper. The boys would then sell the papers for slightly more and keep the difference, usually no more than a few cents. In this way the paperboys would earn 30 or 40 cents a day and the companies profited because they weren’t paying each boy a set amount. If they were unable to sell all of their papers the boys would lose their initial investment since they could not sell the leftover papers back to the company. Life was very difficult for these boys, they would work over 10 hours a day, often risk their lives, and then go home to poor conditions and little food. Many lived in boy’s homes, because they were orphans, and these homes would hire them out to the newspaper companies. Since the newsboys were often living in these terrible conditions it is easy to see why they were desperate to sell their papers to passersby, which is evident in photograph 1.
The price for a bundle of papers had been 60cents. After the Spanish American war ended in 1898, most of the nations newspapers reduced the price of a bundle to 50cents because of dwindling sales. Seizing an opportunity to maintain profits, two papers, Hearst’s the New York Morning Journal and Pulitzer’s the New York World, kept their price the same. This meant that newsboys selling for these papers were making considerably less than other paperboys in other cities. As frustrations rose, the New York newsboys decided to go on strike in July of 1899. Led by leaders such as “Kid Blink” and “Boots,” the newsboys mounted protests, delivered rally speeches, and most importantly, refused to sell the papers of Hearst and Pulitzer. The protest soon spread until it included paperboys covering most of New England. As can be seen in photo 2, the newsboys were able to back the wealthy company bosses into a corner by working together. Either they could listen to the demands of the newsboys or their sails would continue to plummet along with their profits.
After several days of striking, which were highly publicized in other papers as shown here, Hearst and Pulitzer agreed to hear the demands of the newsboy union. Though the newspaper bosses did not agree to sell the paper bundles for a lower price, they did agree to buy back unsold papers. What was intended to be a way to save money for the newspapers, actually profited the newsboys more than had the paper bundle prices been dropped. With the success of the strike the newsboy union ended, but its legacy remained and has been accredited to aspiring later labor strikes
"We are teacher education candidates at the University of Texas at Austin completing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods".