The dubious distinction of being the first newspaper to employ newsboys (or newsies) goes to the New York Morning Post, not to The Sun as is widely believed. A medical school graduate by the name of Horace David Sheppard, whose heart was in journalism not medicine, observed several young street peddlers selling spice cakes on the city’s streets. Priced at a penny, their cakes quickly sold out. Sheppard reasoned that newspapers hawked at that price could fare just as well.
Earlier in America, newspapers were expensive, restrictive, and infrequently printed. Before the Revolution, only 23 weekly newspapers existed in America while daily newspapers were nonexistent. Priced at six cents a copy, their news was usually limited to maritime news and court actions…matters of interest only to merchants. Only after the Revolution, with a newfound political fervor sweeping the fledgling nation, did actual newspapers begin to develop. In the 1830s, with the steam printing press, mass-circulated newspapers first appeared; the public’s demand for news was increasing.
Sheppard’s newspaper would appeal to popular tastes by being freshly informative and entertaining. However, while his ambitions were high his resources were low. Lacking editorial experience, Sheppard found that putting his dream into action wasn’t that easy. He formed an uneasy partnership with another aspiring newspaper man, Horace Greeley (the publisher extraordinaire of the age).
Greeley insisted that the price of their newspaper be raised to two cents and on New Year’s Day 1833 the New York Morning Post hit the streets…together with a blizzard. Through the piles and drifts of snow, which remained for several days, the newsboys found few buyers for this inexpensive yet unfamiliar newspaper. Compounded by Sheppard’s ineptitude as an editor, the paper had little more than its price to sell it. After a week of disastrous sales, the price was dropped to a penny; but the Morning Post was doomed and the paper folded in less than three weeks.
Eight months later, on September 3, 1833, Benjamin Day began publication of The Sun: the first successful newspaper to successfully employ newsboys, thanks to Sheppard’s failed idea in exploiting child labor.
Source: History Buff
- Harvey Fierstein: Reimagining the Story of Newsies (huffingtonpost.com)