Come beat the heat this Sunday at 2pm with the newsboys and newsgirls of New York in the 1992 Disney film Newsies.
This film is based on an actual newsboy-organized strike that stopped the city in July, 1899. Hundreds of boys and girls who sold newspapers on the streets of New York marched onto the Brooklyn Bridge and other places around the city in order to put a halt to traffic and other businesses. They were fed up and wanted people to know it!
These working kids would purchase a pile of 100 newspapers for 65 cents. Then they would spend very long days shouting out newspaper headlines to the public in order to persuade them to buy the paper for one penny. If they sold all the papers, they would make 35 cents, which was a lot of money for them. Most of these kids were orphans and living on the streets or in special boarding houses. This little bit of money helped them survive.
In 1898, the price the newsies had to pay for their stack of papers was increased to 85 cents by the publishers because of the Spanish-American War. (The headlines were so dramatic then that it was easier to sell papers.) But after the war, when life went back to normal, two newspaper publishers did not bring their prices back down. These men were Joseph Pulitzer (New York Evening World)and William Randolph Hearst (New York Evening Journal). At this high rate, newsies could not sell enough papers to make enough money to pay for their lodging and their food.
A few of the kids got together and decided to boycott (that means to not buy or participate in something) the two newspapers. They held large meetings to convince more of the newsies and they quickly were able to organize hundreds of others. In addition to not buying the two newspapers, they tried to stop the businesses from making any money at all by staging a massive strike. Hundreds of kids participated in these demonstrations, which were highlighted by angry speeches by some of the more colorful newsies. Over several hot summer days they marched onto the Brooklyn Bridge, halting traffic for hours, making it very difficult for deliveries of papers to occur. It surely was an inconvenience to the city and attracted the attention of a lot of people.
The strike made it hard for those two papers to continue. Eventually, Pulitzer and Hearst made a decision that persuaded the newsies to stop their strike. The publishers would keep the price of the bundle of papers at 85 cents, but they would buy back any papers at the end of the day that went unsold. This allowed the kids to continue to earn enough money for themselves.
Newspapers aren’t sold by children anymore. In fact, it’s not legal for children to work at all today, which is a very good thing! After the film, head to the DiMenna Children’s History Museum to learn more about the newsies and what happened during the strike. You may never have to organize a strike but you’ll certainly learn how brave the kids were who fought against injustice in 1899.