Though it was brief, the ramifications of the Spanish-American War were serious. This interesting time in history would pit Spain and America against each other in armed combat, affecting the geo-political landscapes in the Caribbean and the Philippines for all parties involved that are still seen today. It’s no wonder that people of the time were eager to get the latest news from the battlefield to learn about the current situation of their time. But this rise in demand would also lead to a rise in price, which would not be lowered once demand returned to normal. Thus began the Newsies, small children who sold newspapers on the streets, striking for better working conditions.
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The Newsboys’ Strike of 1899
The Spanish-American War didn’t even last four months, but it was enough time to affect the price of newspapers. Both Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, owners of the New York World and New York Journal newspapers, respectively, saw an opportunity.
For a while, it worked. Pulitzer and Hearst began to see their profits soar as they raised the price of their publications to $0.60 for a bundle of 100 newspapers (as opposed to the normal rate of $0.50 per 100 newspapers). Life was good if you owned a paper.
Once the war ended, however, demand dropped sharply. Americans who were once desperate to learn about the world’s most current events didn’t have the same gusto, especially for papers that were now much pricier than before. Many companies returned to lower prices. Pulitzer and Hearst refused.
The Newsies had had issues already. Several strikes, even one that same year, had happened before, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading to a widespread work stoppage among the young newspaper hawkers.
The increase in price combined with the decrease in demand made it impossible for Newsies to make enough money to even afford the occupation itself. Led by Morris Cohen, Louis “Kid Blink” Baletti, and various others, on July 18, 1899, the Newsboys Strike in New York was on.
Eventually, after various scandals and work stoppages, less than a month later, on August 1, 1899, a compromise was reached. While the papers remained at their elevated price, both the World and Journal agreed to buy back unsold papers instead of leaving the kids at a net loss of money.
Future Impact of the Newsboy Strike of 1899
The newsie strike had a lasting impact on American culture in a number of ways. First of all, Newsies would gain better protections thanks to improved child protective services and guidelines that would unroll in the future.
Although not a Newsie strike, many other worker demonstrations drew inspiration from the Newsies and their efforts. The inspiration of children as young as four years old fighting back and winning helped inspire David vs. Goliath-type strikes.
Ultimately, the story would inspire American art. The Newsies movie from Disney brought this interesting piece of war and journalism history back to life in 1992. The Newsies cast would even star a young 17-year-old Christian Bale playing the part of Jack Kelly.
What Is ‘Newsies’ About?
Newsies is a musical film from Disney that was inspired by the real-life events that occurred following the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. While it was a box-office bomb that found little to no love in the eyes of critics, audiences would make it a cult classic, inspiring another rendition.
Newsies The Musical on Broadway brought the story to life in a new, bold way. After becoming a success in New York, the cast would find themselves touring and even performing the show internationally as well as being filmed to be featured on Disney+.
The story of the Newsies and the effects of war on newspapers remain an interesting tidbit right on the cusp of the 20th century.