Today is Newspaper Carrier Day in the United States, honoring anyone who is now, or once was, a newspaper carrier. The day commemorates the hiring of the very first newspaper carrier. On September 4, 1833, 10 year old Barney Flaherty became the first newspaper carrier by answering an advertisement in The New York Sun which read, “To the Unemployed, a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper.” Publisher Benjamin Day hired Flaherty to sell papers for his penny press. The only job requirement was that he had to show that he could throw a newspaper into the bushes.
A similar observance, International Newspaper Carrier Day is an annual observance created by the Newspaper Association of America and celebrated in October. The day is scheduled in association with the Newspaper Association Managers’ National Newspaper Week which is celebrated during the first full week in October (Sunday through Saturday). International Newspaper Carrier Day is observed on the Saturday of that week (October 7 in 2018). News Media Canada (the national association representing the newspaper industry in Canada) also observes this particular date, noting newspapers may choose to observe the day by running an ad, or organizing special events or activities. The purpose of National Newspaper Week and International Newspaper Carrier Day is to highlight the contributions that newspapers, their staff and carriers make to gather and deliver the news to their communities.
The paperboy (and papergirl) occupies a prominent place in the popular memory of many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Japan. This is because it has long been the first paying job available to young teenagers.
The adolescent (very rarely, adult) newspaper carriers distributed printed newspapers to homes or offices of subscribers on a regular route, usually by bicycle or automobile, before or after school hours. This can be compared with the newsboy or newspaper hawker, now extremely rare in Western nations, who would sell newspapers to passersby on the street, often with very vocal promotion. They were common when multiple daily papers in every city—as many as 50 in New York City alone — competed for sales.
Benjamin Franklin is sometimes called the “first American newsboy”, as he helped deliver his brother’s New England Courant in 1721. The real beginning of the trade of newsboy comes in 1833, when the New York Sun started hiring vendors in New York City. At the time, newspapers were generally either picked up at the newspaper’s office, sent by mail, or delivered by printers’ apprentices or other employees. The Sun, by contrast, was not sold in stores or by subscription. Its publisher, Benjamin Day, recruited unemployed people using help-wanted notices to vend his newspaper. Instead of the adults he expected, his ad drew children: the first was the 10-year-old Irish immigrant Bernard Flaherty, who turned out to be a talented hawker — later a stage comedian — who would cry out the day’s most sensational headlines: “Double Distilled Villainy”; “Cursed Effects of Drunkenness!”; “Awful Occurrence!”; “Infamous Affair!”. These newsboys could either hawk to passersby on the street or establish subscription routes; many did both.
Newspaper boys, also called ‘newsboys’ or ‘newsies’, were the main distributors of newspapers to the general public from the mid-19th to the early 20th century in the United States. They were not employees of the newspapers but rather purchased the papers from the publishers and sold them as independent agents. Not allowed to return unsold papers, the newsboys typically earned around 30 cents a day and often worked until very late at night. Cries of “Extra, extra!” were often heard into the morning hours as newsboys attempted to hawk every last paper.
Newsboys were not often well received. In 1875, a popular writer of the period wrote, “There are 10,000 children living on the streets of New York….The newsboys constitute an important division of this army of homeless children. 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.”
“News butcher” was the name of a related job for young boys in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where the boys would walk through railroad trains selling newspapers, candy, cigars, and other products to the passengers. Thomas Edison was a news butcher in his youth, but he lost that job after he set a car on fire due to white phosphorus igniting in a chemistry set he had onboard. Walt Disney worked as news butcher on the Missouri Pacific Railway as a teenager, and his memories of that experience influenced his design of the Disneyland Railroad.
Newsboys struck for better pay and working conditions multiple times: 1884, 1886, 1887, 1889. and in May 1898. In the newsboys’ strike of July 1899, many New York newsboys refused to deliver major newspapers, and asked the public to boycott them. After a two-week strike, papers did not lower their prices, but did agree to buy back all unsold papers, and the union disbanded.
The best-known newspaper hawker is probably Ned Parfett who was photographed hawking newspapers outside of the White Star Line offices in London on April 16, 1912. The headlines proclaimed the sinking of the ocean liner RMS Titanic. Just days before the end of World War I in November 1918, Parfett was killed during a German bombardment while serving in France. He was 22 years old at the time of his death.
The number of paperboys has declined dramatically in recent years. This is due partly to the disappearance of afternoon newspapers, whose delivery times worked better for school-aged children than did those of morning papers, which were typically delivered before 6 a.m. The numbers have also been affected by changing demographics, the availability of news and newspapers on the Internet; employment laws, and growing concerns for the safety of unescorted children, all of which have led many newspapers to switch to delivery by adults. Today, they are mainly used by weekly community newspapers and free shopper papers, which still tend to be delivered in the afternoons. Alternatively, sometimes paperboys are only employed once a week to deliver the paper on Sunday.
Scott #1015 was issued through the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, post office on October 4, 1952. A newspaper delivery boy is featured on the 3-cent violet stamp’s left, and to the right is a torch, grasped in a human hand, symbolizing free enterprise. A group of homes, depicting an average residential community, serves as a base and background for the stamp. The denomination 3c and U.S. POSTAGE appear across the top in modified whiteface Roman. On the carrier bag used by the boy, the lettering, BUSY BOYS…BETTER BOYS, appears in dark Gothic. Centered between the figure and the torch, arranged in seven lines, is the wording IN RECOGNITION OF THE IMPORTANT SERVICE RENDERED THEIR COMMUNITIES AND THEIR NATION BY AAMERICA’S NEWSPAPER BOYS. The above wording is in dark Gothic, with the exception of “Newspaper Boys,” which is in dark modified Roman.
The stamp was printed by the rotary process by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, electric-eye perforated in a gauge of 11 x 10½, and issued in panes of fifty stamps each. An initial printing of 110 million copies of this stamp was authorized and the final quantity numbered 115,430,000.
Additional vintage photos of newspaper carriers and hawkers can be seen in my Flickr album, “Paperboys”.