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.