44 Vintage Photos Of The Real-Life Newsboys Who Peddled Papers On The Streets Of America And Inspired ‘Newsies’
By Kaleena Fraga | Edited By Cara Johnson
Published April 10, 2023
Updated April 11, 2023
Beginning in the 1840s, young boys called "newsies" sold newspapers in major cities across the U.S. in order to make a living or support their struggling families — and as these photos show, the job wasn't always easy.
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A newsboy in Chicago, Illinois. 1904.Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
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Newsboys gathered early in the morning near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. February 1908.Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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A group of newsboys near the New York World Building. Circa 1908.Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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Boys "waiting for the signal" with extra news about baseball at 5 p.m. Cincinnati, Ohio, 1908. Lewis Wickes Hine/Wikimedia Commons
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Girls selling papers in Hartford, Connecticut. The original caption states that the tallest girl, named Alice, uses "viler language than the newsboys do." 1909. Library of Congress
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Eleven-year-old Tony "Bologna" Casale, a newsboy who started selling papers in Hartford, Connecticut when he was seven. 1909.Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images
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Three young girls selling newspapers in Hartford, Connecticut. 1909. GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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Newsboys selling newspapers at the Hudson Tunnel Station in Jersey City, New Jersey. December 1909. Lewis Wickes Hine/Interim Archives/Getty Images
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Twelve-year-old Hyman Albert, who started selling papers when he was nine years old. New Haven, Connecticut, 1909. GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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A six-year-old newsboy identified as "Little Fattie" in St. Louis, Missouri. 1910. Library of Congress
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A young newsboy standing in front of a saloon, circa 1910. Some newsboys as young as six would spend their hard-earned pennies on whiskey. SSPL/Getty Images
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A young boy selling newspapers at night in St. Louis, Missouri. 1910. GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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An eight-year-old newsboy named Michael McNelis makes a sale. 1910.Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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Twelve-year-old Louis Birch of Wilmington, Delaware, started selling papers after his father died. He worked around nine hours a day and gave his earnings to his mother. 1910. Library of Congress
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Young newsboys gathered outside of a tobacco shop in Newark, New Jersey. 1910. Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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Ten-year-old Simon Mellitto of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania made 25 to 75 cents a day selling papers. 1910.Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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A seven-year-old newsboy sells copies of the New York Herald on Columbus Circle in New York City. Circa 1910. Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
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Twelve-year-old James Lequlla of Wilmington, Delaware, started selling papers when he was nine. He made around 50 cents per week by working seven hours per day. 1910.Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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Three young newsboys smoking cigarettes in St. Louis, Missouri. 1910. Lewis Wickes Hine/Interim Archives/Getty Images
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A group of newsboys in St. Louis, Missouri. 1910.GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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Newsboys in Buffalo, New York. 1910. GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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A newsboy in Richmond, Virginia, named Willie. He at first said he was eight years old before admitting that he was actually only six. Circa 1911. Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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Newsboys selling papers after midnight in Washington, D.C. 1912.Lewis Wickes Hine/Interim Archives/Getty Images
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A boy sells a newspaper with a headline about the sinking of the Titanic. April 1912. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
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Two newsboys selling papers in Newark, New Jersey. 1912. GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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A young newsboy standing in a doorway. Circa 1913. Library of Congress
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A pair of brothers, six and 11, selling newspapers in Dallas, Texas. 1913.
Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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A newsboy in Beaumont, Texas. When asked his age, the boy responded, "Dunno how old I am." 1913.Library of Congress
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Three brothers selling newspapers in San Antonio, Texas. The youngest is just five. They told the photographer: "We don't go to school; got to sell papers. Father is sick." 1913.Library of Congress
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A barefoot newsboy in Birmingham, Alabama, 1914. Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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A newsboy (10-12 years old) selling newspapers in New York City. 1916.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A newsboy selling the Saturday Evening Post in New York. 1920s.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A newsboy in Washington, D.C. Circa 1915-1923.Library of Congress
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A newsboy holding the Washington Times, Washington, D.C. Circa. 1915-1923. Hum Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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Ronald, an 11-year-old newsboy, in Newark, New Jersey. 1924.GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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Five-year-old Hymie Miller selling papers after school in New York. 1924. Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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A newsboy in Hartford, Connecticut. 1924.Lewis Wickes Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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A young newsboy holds a bundle of papers under his arm. Circa 1925. Harold M. Lambert/Lambert/Getty Images
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A newsboy bundled up against the cold and selling newspapers in the 1930s.H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
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A young newsboy in Harlem, New York.Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images
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A newsboy selling papers. Circa 1920s-1940s.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A newsboys calls out the latest headlines in Cincinnati, Ohio. 1940s.
Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images
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A newsboy selling papers in Chicago. 1942. Jack Delano/Library Of Congress/Getty Images
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A newsboy in a Newsweek apron selling the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Circa 1945.Harold M. Lambert/Lambert/Getty Images
44 Vintage Photos Of The Real-Life Newsboys Who Peddled Papers On The Streets Of America And Inspired ‘Newsies’
Amid the chaotic muddle of turn-of-the-century American cities, commuters striding to or from work would almost certainly encounter young children selling newspapers. These newsboys, or newsies, made up an essential thread in the fabric of American urban life.
Sometimes as young as five or six, newsies emerged in the mid-19th century alongside affordable newspapers. They collected bundles from publishers and hawked the day's latest stories for a penny in hopes of making money for their families or themselves.
Though young — and, in the beginning, often homeless — newsies made up a powerful collective force. When newspaper publishers tried to raise bundle prices in 1899, newsboys in New York went on strike. They managed to wring concessions from powerful publishers, as depicted in the 1992 movie Newsies.
These 44 newsies photos capture a slice of their lives between the 19th and 20th centuries, when a young child with ambition and a loud voice could scrape together a meager wage by selling papers on the street.
The Rise Of The Newsboy
At the onset of the 19th century, newspapers were too expensive for many to afford. The New York Times reports that they cost around five cents, which was prohibitively expensive for workers who made just a dollar a day.
This changed in the 1840s. The invention of the rotary press ushered in the era of "penny papers," which the masses could afford, as well as the need for workers to sell them. Before long, the dozens of dailies in cities like New York were hawked by young children, called newsboys or "newsies."
Oscar Gustav Rejlander/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesA young newsboy spreads news about the Great Chicago Fire. October 1871.
Newsboys, sometimes as young as six, were poor and often homeless. They paid for the papers that they sold and suffered when sales were bad.
"There are 10,000 children living on the streets of New York... The newsboys constitute an important division of this army of homeless children," one man wrote of newsies in 1872, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. "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."
Though young and poor, newsies became an important part of American urban life. They came to play such a crucial role that they were able to stand up to powerful newspaper publishers at the end of the 19th century.
The Newsboy Strike Of 1899
Newsies and newspaper moguls in New York City long had a symbiotic relationship. Newsboys would buy 100 papers for 50 cents and then sell them for one cent each. Though publishers raised bundle prices to 60 cents during the Spanish-American War in 1898, newsies didn't mind because everyone wanted to buy a paper and read about the conflict.
But after the war ended, moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer kept charging the newsboys 60 cents for 100 papers. And the newsies started feeling the difference.
GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesFour newsboys in New York State, circa 1910.
Angered by the cost of newspaper bundles, newsies gathered to form a union. Though publishers initially dismissed the newsboy strike of 1899, they soon realized that the strikers were serious.
The newsboys marched, threatened the offices of the New York World and the New York Journal with clubs, and endeared themselves to the public. The World's circulation plummeted, and the paper's managing editor, Don Seitz, wrote a number of increasingly panicked memos to Pulitzer.
"The people seem to be against us," Seitz told his boss on July 24. "They are encouraging the boys and tipping them... [and] they are refraining from buying the papers for fear of having them snatched from their hands."
In the end, the newsboys and the newspaper moguls came to an agreement. The bundles would stay at 60 cents, but newsies could sell back any unsold papers for a full refund at the end of the day. With that, the strike ended.
The End Of The Era Of 'Extra, Extra!'
Following the newsboys' strike of 1899, life for newsies largely continued as it always had. Many continued to live in poverty, though fewer were homeless.
"The newsboy of today," the superintendent of a "newsboys' lodging house," told photographer and activist Jacob Riis in 1912, per American Heritage, "is a commercial little chap who lives at home and sells papers after school hours."
As time went on, and child labor laws were put into place, newsies became all but obsolete. But they certainly captured the American imagination. In 1992, the Disney musical Newsies told the colorful story of the 1899 strike almost a century after it took place.
Above, look through 44 newsies photos that capture what life was like for newsboys — and girls — in American cities across the nation.
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.