A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie Newsies for the first time. It was released in 1992 by Disney and by critic’s standards, it was a disaster. I, however, absolutely adored it. I liked it so much I went out and bought the Broadway soundtrack for my phone and I have searched high and low for my own copy of the DVD (to no avail).
I liked it because the idea that a group of kids can stand up to someone who was doing them wrong, and win, was really inspiring to me. I loved that, and so I decided to research the real kids who managed to pull it off.
Those kids blew me away more than the movie did.
In 1899, Newsboys lined the streets of New York, distributing papers such as The New York Evening and The New York Journal. They paid 50 cents for a bundle of 100, and sold them for a penny a paper. They would make a profit of about 25 cents, once they put aside the 50 cents they would need for the next day’s papers. Any papers they didn’t sell became a drain on their finances, as they would not get reimbursed for them and would not be able to sell them the next day. They would often live on the streets, and just about scrape by on their meagre salary. Then, Pulitzer and Hurst, owners of the New York Journal and Evening, raised the price of the papers by 10 cents a bundle.
The newsboys weren’t standing for this. They were furious, and under the leadership of someone they called Kid Blink (so called because he wore an eye-patch and was blind in one eye) they decided to strike.
Together, the boys would fight anyone who refused to strike, hold rallies and work together to reverse the injustice that had been done. They were determined, and managed to go as far as blocking the Brooklyn Bridge for five days.
Pulitzer and Hurst tried to convince adults who were out of work to distribute the papers instead, but they refused, stating that they stood with the children.
And they won. Eventually, Pulitzer and Hurst had to change something. While they didn’t reduce the papers to their original price, they agreed to refund the newsboys any papers they didn’t sell.
The reason I love Newsies so much is because I find the story behind it so inspiring. History is full of stories like these, of children who decided to stand up for what they believe in. The newsboys inspired hundreds of other child labourers to strike, and sparked a change around the world.
The movie is fantastic and the musical is great, don’t get me wrong. But I think the best thing to come out of the newsboy strikes of 1899 is the real life story.