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LITTLE BUSINESSMEN


Children sold paper news sheets in colonial times, and even larger numbers became newspaper handlers with the advent of the penny paper in 1833. By 1962, there were 600,000 “paperboys”, thanks in part to exemptions from Depression-era child labor laws for youths if they were at least 12 years of age. The labor laws also exempted youths involved in acting, baby sitting, farm work, a family business, and making Christmas wreaths. The laws apparently still required a work permit in 1943, as I was asked to present one to a new employer in my first job as a soda jerk. I was 15 instead of 16 with no permit, but I kept showing up and eventually turned 16 never having had anything showing I was old enough to work.

In 1833 New York urchins roamed the crowded bustling streets of the city hawking the Sun newspaper. They took over the coffee houses and taverns shouting and waving the newspaper for one cent. The “newsey” became a common American icon. You can see that their costume of knickers and the cute caps, eventually became quite chic! I may still have one buried deep within my closet.

Newspaper boys in Jersey City

Selling penny papers continued into the 20th century, when the shift to home delivery system increased. Nearly every boy had a paper route by the time he was 12 years old. Even my great grandfather had a route which he accomplished riding his pony and small trap. 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, and all depending upon where one lived. Great grandfather expanded his paper delivery service by working at an ice cream shop. By the time he was 16 years old, he owned the shop, and ready to entrust it to a subordinate, he went on to being a contractor and hotel owner in both New Hampshire and Florida, where he was the first to offer tennis courts, golf and swimming poolsat his resorts. Just goes to show what a lucrative business the newspaper can be. Ask Mr. Rupert Murdock.

We checked out a new sports venue and the manager came up asking if we remembered him, which with our failing memories we didn’t, until he reminded us that he had been our paperboy! Nice guy, but he’d better get back on his bike as he has a few extra pounds since we knew him.

We get our news now in more ways than we can absorb—TV, three newspapers, and of course our trusty computers wherein we see emblazoned across the top the list of everything we might want or need to know—mail, news, sports, finance, weather, entertainment, health, ad infinitum. Of course, none of these carriers of information ever promised GOOD news, so they can’t be accused of reneging on a promise not given.

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12 comments on “LITTLE BUSINESSMEN

  1. Yes, delivering newspapers was the only way to get an ice-cream or Mars bar together in my youth. I remember if you saved 7 Ms from Mars bars you got one for free! I think that clever marketing ploy was introduced to Europe by the US during the Marshall Plan together with a free Coca Cola for every school kid.

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    • Since young boys no longer seem to be the carriers, it’s hard to say what would be adequate compensation. Our delivery comes very early in the morning, tossed under the car by an unseen hand who leaves a thank you at holiday time encouraging a guilty dip in the pocket for recompense or at least a Christmas card.

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  2. Lovely – with the exception of the mention of (ugh !) Murdoch. The swine.
    Where do you get all this stuff, Katy …?

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    • Yes, I think Murdock burned his bridges a couple of years ago. The publisher of the extant Sun Newspaper was I think named Benjamin Day. He started with a good idea to get the news out fast, at the same time encouraging young merchants to spread out. My husband was a short-lived paperboy in Oakland. His route encompassed a neighborhood where every house was at the top of a long flight of steps. I think he probably just left most of the pile at the foot of the stairs and took off to play basketball.

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  3. Delightful, your stuff, such as it is.

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  4. Your grandfather owned the shop at 16? Wow! Great post about this fading aspect of life: paper boys. And what about the little boy with one leg? What determination. My first job was working in the local “paper shop” (newsagent).

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  5. It was my maternal great grandfather. I guess he was ahead of his time in many ways. He even took up photography and took pictures of the buildings he built in their little town in New Hampshire. Some were developed on soft cotton cloth and are blue. Quite interesting.

    I wondered about that little paper boy too. He was determined to win. xxoo

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  6. Ah, Oakland. The hills and the flats. I lived in the flats one year, and it was quite an experience. I did go to several live concerts there, too, and heard music I never would have heard in Iowa: the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Tower of Power, the Persuasions, The Grateful Dead, the Gospel Hummingbirds. Oh, what fun!

    But back to Oakland and the newsboys. Lookie what I found!

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    • What a treat! Looked for familiar business names but zip. Leo Cohen , a news photographer told me in the 70’s or early 80’s they were working on the color reproduction to get it to “lock in” in instead of giving a double image. Looks like it worked.

      The New York Times, my favorite paper, is called “The Grey Lady” because they print no color.

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  7. Oh my god, Shoreacres. Tower of Power played at our high school dances. I knew we had something in common. Did you go to U.C. Berkeley?

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