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47: Newsies

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

We should probably get this out of the way early, but obviously all of the musical numbers in Newsies never happened. As much as I love a great musical, the real newsboys didn’t break out in song. So for the duration of this episode, we won’t really mention the musical numbers. 

The movie is correct, though, when it says the newsboys strike took place just before the turn of the century in 1899.  

The movie begins as we are introduced to a number of children, living in what appears to be a children’s home of sorts. The man running the home is a character named Kloppman who’s played by the legendary Marc Lawrence.

While there were certainly homes similar to the one seen in the movie, the character of Kloppman most likely isn’t real. There are some traces of a man named Kloppman around that time in New York, but we just don’t have enough information to know if the person we see in the film is real. So it’s safe to assume both Kloppman and this particular home was made up for the film. 

In the movie, it’s here in the home when we’re introduced to Christian Bale’s character, Jack Kelly. We already learned in the intro that Jack Kelly wasn’t a real person. Although, in the movie, we end up finding out that Jack Kelly wasn’t his real name. He came up with that name to hide from Kevin Tighes’ character, Snyder. 

But neither Jack Kelly or what the movie claims is his real name, Francis Sullivan, were real people. This might be one of the more interesting changes the filmmakers made. 

The character of Jack, or Francis if you prefer, is based on someone who certainly was real. The real person’s name was Louis Ballatt. But Louis had a nickname that he was known by, Kid Blink. 

What’s interesting here is that the character of Kid Blink is in Newsies. He’s played by Trey Parker, and we see him with a patch over his eye. That part for Kid Blink is accurate. Louis got his nickname because he was blind in his left eye, so he wore a patch over it.  

Soon after this, in the movie, we’re introduced to David Jacobs and his younger brother, Les. The character of David Jacobs is played by the actor David Moscow, while Les Jacobs is played by Luke Edwards. 

Both David—or Davey, as the other newsies call him—and Les turn up to sell newspapers to support their family. Their father, a character named Mayer Jacobs and played by Jeffrey DeMunn, was injured and subsequently fired from a manufacturing company. Unable to work, it’s fallen on Davey and Les to help support the family. 

All of this is likely made up.  

That’s not to say there never was a Mayer Jacobs. There’s plenty of people with that name, just like there’s plenty of people with the name Jack Kelly, David and Les Jacobs, and so on.

Sadly, many people have simply disappeared through time. Like many poor families in New York City in 1899, there’s just no surviving documentation to let us know if they ever existed. 

Probably the closest connection I could find was an obituary for a man named David Jacobs who was born in 1886. That would make him about 13 years old in 1899 when the events in the movie took place. So definitely plausible.  

David’s mother’s name was Esther, which is the name of Deborra-Lee Furness’ character, David’s mother in the movie. Things are looking good that he’s real!

But that’s where the similarities end.  

This real David Jacobs was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1886, and didn’t come to the U.S.A. with his parents, Jacob and Esther Jacobs, until 1905. And while this David Jacobs had five brothers, none of them were named Les. 

The truth is, we just don’t know who many of the newsboys were that were involved in the strike of 1899. Sadly, as is often the case, history doesn’t remember everybody. 

What history does remember, though, is the events that the movie portrays next. A steep and tough competition between the owner of the New York World newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph Hearst.

Both Joseph Pulitzer, who’s played by Robert Duvall in the film, and William Randolph Hearst, who is mentioned in the movie but doesn’t make an appearance, were real people. And the circulation wars that Robert Duvall’s version of Pulitzer mentions in the film were also very real. 

To give a brief bit of context here, William Randolph Hearst got into the news business when he inherited The San Francisco Examiner from his father. In 1895, he decided to move across the country to New York City where he purchased the New York Journal. 

This made him a direct competitor with Joseph Pulitzer, who was already running the New York World newspaper in town. 

For years, Hearst and Pulitzer fought a battle for subscribers. In fact, it’s because of this fierce competition that both Hearst and Pulitzer started to employ a strategy that worked really, really well. That strategy was simply to have a huge, catchy headline followed up by rather shoddy, ill-researched journalism. 

Today we’d call it click bait. Back then, it was referred to as yellow journalism because it was seen as unethical. 

You know, a lot like today’s headlines with fake news. 

As unethical as it may be, people still fell for it. Enough people that it lined the pockets of both Hearst and Pulitzer, making the rich even richer. 

In the movie, while it doesn’t really mention the unethical journalism used by Hearst and Pulitzer, it does mention a price hike on the papers from Pulitzer. According to the movie, it’s because of this hike, an increase from 50 cents per hundred papers to 60 cents, that is the last straw for the newsboys.

While the discussion between Pulitzer and his team to come up with the idea for the hike was fictionalized for the film, the price hike itself did happen. 

In 1898, the United States was engaged in a vicious war with the Spanish. It wasn’t a long war, lasting only a few months from April 12th to August 13th, 1898. The Spanish-American War was as good as gold for Hearst and Pulitzer, who had more sensational headlines than they knew what to do with. 

Well, perhaps that’s not true. They knew what to do with it. With the people of New York City demanding more and more news as they were riveted to news from the war, most of the newspapers raised the costs from 50 cents to 60 cents for a bundle of 100 newspapers in 1898. 

But there were so many people looking for the news of the war that this slight increase didn’t seem to affect anything other than to make the newspaper owners a bit wealthier. 

When the war ended, though, most of the newspapers reduced their prices back to 50 cents for a bundle of 100 papers. Hearst and Pulitzer didn’t, leaving the prices at 60 cents. 

That’s what ultimately caused the newsboys’ strike in 1899. So it wasn’t an immediate thing that happened right after the prices changes went into effect like the movie claims. 

Oh, and something else the movie mentions in one of the songs is that the newsies are doing something that’s never been done before. That’s not entirely true. 

In truth, while we know the most about the newsboys strike of 1899, there were at least five other strikes in the years leading up to that—1884, 1886, 1887, 1889 and again in 1898. The only reason why we know the most about the strike of 1899 is because, well, it was the only one of the strikes to be successful.

In the movie, after the newsboys decide to strike, there’s a reporter who helps bring the strike to the attention of the public. This is Bryan Denton, who’s played by Bill Pullman. The movie focuses mostly on Pulitzer’s New York World, but it still has Bryan working at The Sun, a competitor of both the New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal

If you’ve seen the movie but not the musical and you don’t want a spoiler to the changes, you might want to skip ahead for a couple minutes. 

Ready for the spoilers to the musical? 

In the Broadway musical version of Newsies, the role of the reporter isn’t a character named Bryan Denton, but instead a character named Katherine Plumber. 

In the musical, it’s Katherine who is the love interest of Jack Kelly instead of in the movie where it’s Davey’s sister, Sarah, that Jack likes. 

Oh, and we find out later on in the musical that Katherine Plumber is her pen name. Her real name is Katherine Pulitzer—she’s the daughter of Joseph Pulitzer. 

It is true that Joseph Pulitzer had a daughter named Katherine. She was named after her mother, Joseph Pulitzer’s wife, Katherine Davis. As a side note here, Katherine Davis was related to Jefferson Davis. If that name rings a bell, it’s because you remember him as the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. 

So while the musical is a little bit more historically accurate than the movie here, it’s still not entirely accurate.  

In fact, only five of the seven children that Joseph and Katherine had survived to adulthood. Their daughter Katherine was not one of them. The real Katherine Pulitzer died at an early age in 1884, before the events of the film took place. 

OK, if you’re looking for a point to skip back to without spoilers to the musical, you can start back up here. 

So while the newspapers named in the movie and the musical were all real papers, but the movie wasn’t right, either, with a reporter named Bryan Denton. As far as we can tell, there was no reporter named Bryan Denton who worked at The Sun.
But the article written for The Sun was real. Unfortunately, none of the articles for The Sun had a byline, so it’s hard to say for sure who the reporter was that put it together. 

The article was released on the second page of the Sunday, July 23rd, 1899 paper. 

Interestingly, the same day, there was an article in the Washington Times paper that had a mention of the strike, too. Considering there obviously wasn’t means of fast-traveling news like we have today back in 1899, that means there were likely multiple reporters covering the story. 

While I don’t typically like to copy articles word for word, I think it’s worth giving an exception in this case because The Sun article is mentioned in the movie, but we never really got to hear the entire article in the film. Not only that, but the real article can give us quite a bit of insight into what the real strike must’ve been like. And the picture we get from it is quite different than what we see in the movie Newsies

Before we start, it’s helpful to know some of the terminology of the day. The most predominate of those would be the term “scabs”, which we also heard in the movie, and refers to people who cross the picket line.


Another term you’ll hear is “soak”, which, as the movie implies, is a slang term for beating someone up. Then there’s a derogatory slang term, “Robber Barons”, used to describe 19th century businessmen who used less than up-front methods to gain their riches. 

This is a pretty long article, so sit back, relax, and let’s get whisked away to the turn of the century as we read this article from the Sunday, July 23rd, 1899 edition of The Sun.




Hits the Robber Barons a Most Painful Whack.


Bluecoated Servants of Capital Break Up the Parade of Labor and Arrest a Lot of Her Unnoted Martyrs—Arbitration Demanded by Strike Committee from Editor


The newsboys, who are conducting the only strike in town, say it will continue until the price of the red-headed evening journals comes down to 50 cents a hundred, which is the wholesale rate of the other one-cent evening papers. The circulation managers of the evening editions of the World and Journal made another effort to untie the tie-up yesterday by selling first three and then five papers for a cent, and finally giving papers away to those who would take them. The only apparent result of this simple strategy was to get one or two small boys, whose cupidity was too much for them, into a heap of trouble, and to induce a half dozen thick young men in black sweaters to take up the sale of the papers. Few bought them—a fact which the newsboys as a whole took to be a sign that the public is with them in their fight. 

Kid Blink, who is sometimes called Red Blink on account of the color of his hair, was in command yesterday of the Park row strikers, who practically organized the strike. The Kid announced yesterday afternoon that things were going on beautifully and that he could see success ahead if the boys only held together. 

“We’ve got the uptown boys, the Long Island City boys and the Brooklyn boys all with us,” said the Kid with a smile of satisfaction, “and if the papers can stand it we can. I was talking with a man this morning who tells me that the World and Journal advertisers is a-kickin’ about putting up for ‘ads’ in a paper that ain’t got no circulation. If we can get the advertisers with us we win in a walk. Anyway, we’re going to hold out.” 

Kid Blink and his colleagues are not concealing the fact that they wholly approve of violence in the cause of labor. The Journal dug up three or four young men of muscle and sent them out on Park row with papers. The strikers looked them over carefully and concluded that they couldn’t punch this crowd out of business. Too many of their number have already been arrested for using violence. So they decided to talk it over with the men. Their talk was in vain and they were planning some safe revenge when a small boy came out with Journals under his arm. He took his place on the sidewalk and a policeman lined up alongside of him. The strikers were nonplussed for a moment. Here was a boy who was sadly in need of a licking and one to whom a licking could be administered with safety but for the presence of the policeman. Two boys got near enough to warn the boy to quit, but he looked at the policeman and told them to go away. 

The strikers drew off to talk it over. Plainly something must be done. The leaders declared that barefaced defiance by a mere “kid” would demoralize the rank and file if left unpunished. Yet there was the policeman with a night stick and there was the lesson of three of their number already sent to juvenile asylums for assaulting scabs. The leaders were at their wits’ ends. 

Up spoke Young Myers, sometimes called Young Mush, on account of his fondness for taking his girls to Corlears Hook Park Sunday evenings. 

“That cop’s too fat to run fast an’ I’ll get him after me if you’ll tend to the scab when he gets away,” he said. 

The leaders promised to attend to the scab if Young Myers would remove the policeman. Walking innocently up to the Journal boy, Myers grabbed a handful of papers and ran as fast as his legs would carry him. The Journal boy yelled for help and away went the policeman after Young Mush. The Journal boy watched the pursuit with interest. A second later he had other things to think about. Fifteen strikers surrounded him and the blows came in thick and fast. The Journals that he had were taken away and torn into ribbons. His nose began to bleed and his eyes to swell under the punching he was getting. He bawled for mercy and two clerks came out from the Journal office. One of them was hit in the middle of a white vest by a soft Bartlett pear, and he and his companion retired. Then a policeman came up and the strikers retired, leaving their victim very much the worse for wear. A few minutes later they caught him again at the corner of Frankfort street. They invited him to join them, which he did in a hurry. A half hour later he was leading an attack on a boy who was trying to smuggle some Worlds and Journals over to Brooklyn. 

This was really the most violent affair of the day, although several other non-union newsboys were harshly treated. The leaders, it seems, missed several of their men on Friday, and when they put in an appearance yesterday they were viewed with suspicion, and it was whispered that they had taken baseball extras uptown and sold them in the resident streets. It was decided to watch them, and when two of the suspects came out of the Journal offices yesterday afternoon with their hands in their pockets, whistling innocently, suspicion was aroused. 

“They’ve got the papers under their coats,” whispered one striker, and when the rest shook up the innocent ones a moment later, they found that it was even so. 

“Scabs! Scabs!” yelled the strikers, and a hundred newsboys rushed up to take a hand in the necessary discipline. Two policemen dispersed the boys, but not before they had administered a good punching to the smugglers. 

Around the bridge entrance the strikers had hard work maintaining their supremacy. Several of the black sweater tools of capital held forth there, and, besides that, there are so many policemen at this point that a raid, to be successful, has to be made in a hurry or somebody is going to be caught. Then, again, these World and Journal newsboys are men and can fight, which is the only reason they are selling papers, and, altogether, an attack on them is fraught with so much danger that the boys were inclined yesterday to let them alone. 

It isn’t these men, though, that the boys are so bitter against. They sell very few papers and have really hurt the cause of the strikers but little. The newswomen around the bridge entrance, though, have established trades, and while they all pretend to be assisting in the strike, several have already been caught selling the boycotted papers, hauling them out from under their shawls when they are called for by customers. This base deceit has angered the boys very much, but they are at a loss to find a remedy. 

“A feller can’t soak a lady,” said Kid Blink, “and yer can’t get at them women’s scab papes without soakin’ them. We’ll have to let them alone, I guess. Anyway, we’ve got Annie with us. Yer can bet there ain’t no Worlds or Journals under her skirts.” 

Away from Park row the principle strike centres are Fifty-ninth street and Columbus avenue and Thirty-third street and Broadway. These are distributing depots and Worlds and Journals go up there by wagon. The Park row boys have had the uptown boys with them from the first, and these latter have been on guard daily at the distribution points. They have a full line of strike signs, which they wear on their hats or paste up in conspicuous places, asking for the support of the public. 

They have kept the weak ones in line so well the past few days that they are jubilant, and yesterday they became so demonstrative in the Tenderloin that policemen were sent around the Greeley Square to keep them moving. The policemen had a difficult time of it and finally gave up trying to disperse the boys, taking up posts in front of the World office, where they could at least protect the property of that newspaper. Emissaries from the downtown leaders kept arriving at all the uptown points during the afternoon, encouraging the strikers with good news of downtown successes.  

The downtown boys concluded yesterday afternoon that there was no use fooling any longer with the cellar bosses who deal out the papers to them, and decided to hold up the editor of the Journal on his arrival at the office. Accordingly, when Mr. Hearst got out of a cab in front of the Journal office yesterday afternoon he found a small army of boys waiting for him. One touched him on the arm and said:

 “We’re the strikers, Mr. Hearst.” 

“Well, boys, what can I do for you?” said Mr. Hearst. 

“Well, we want 100 papers for 50 cents. We get it from the other papers except the World.” 

“Come in and talk it over,” said the editor, and Kid Blink, Jim Seahook, Jim Gady and Dave Simon formed themselves into a committee of four and went in. When they came out again Kid Blink announced the result of the conference as follows: 

“He wanted to know what the World was goin’ to do. I told him that we was dealing with the Journal now, and that if he cut the World would cut quick enough. He says he had to talk it over with some other guys before he’d give an answer, and then I asked him if he wouldn’t arbitrate, like his paper says. He laughed and said he’d give us an answer Monday right here, and that if he decided to arbitrate he’d meet us at the Broadway Central Hotel.” 

This announcement was greeted with cheers and was taken by the majority to indicate a willingness to meet the demands of the strikers. In the meantime, though, it was decided to pursue the strike relentlessly. Later in the afternoon the boys got out a lot of circulars. The first one was a call for a meeting and was as follows: 







 Don’t forget

to meet at 


 at 7:30 P.M.






“Grin” Boyle, from 351 Water street, gave the sign for the calling of the meeting at 8 o’clock, and, with a crowd behind him, he marched up Frankfort street into the enemy’s camp, where a few “scabs” were showing red-headed extras from behind protecting policemen. The strikers bore banners variously inscribed. One of them read:

“‘We win.’ says Rubber, and the newsboys don’t buy the Journal.”

Boyle called a halt at the World building and harangued them. The crowd yelled approval of his remarks, of which there is no Herodotus, and then started out to parade down Park row. Policemen Allen and Distler, however, were there in plain clothes, and they pounced on Boyle and his adjutant, Albert Smith, of 56 Cherry street. The strikers tried to rescue their leaders, but after firing a volley of stones, retired in good order down Frankfort street. They reassembled as if by magic in Theatre alley, and were starting up to the World building again, some 500 strong, when the policemen turned up and pulled in five more boys. The prisoners were: Abraham Greenhause of 35 Allen street; Isaac Miller of 163 Ludlow street; “Thimblefinger Joe” Mulligan of 93 Summit street, Brooklyn; “Juley Frank” Glasso of 82 Mulberry street, and Donato Carolueer of 184 Twelfth street, Jersey City, otherwise “Musty Pip.” They were all locked up in the Oak street station. The crowd of newsboys then started in to maul the driver of a Journal wagon, who escaped with a few severe bruises, by driving like mad through Mall street and out of reach.

The boys concluded that a parade was out of the question, but they did good work for their cause by distributing thousands of their circulars around the bridge entrance and other frequented spots. One circular was as follows:






to get a fair play by not buying the




Help us. Do not ask for the World or Journal.






The “names” of the newspapers in this circular were printed in large yellow letters. Other circulars denounced the boycotted papers and entreated the public refuse to buy them. The circulars contain the names of all the one cent papers not boycotted and suggest that the regular readers of the World and Journal get their news from these papers, which allow the boys a fair margin of profit, until such time as the World and Journal accede to their demands.

The boys were bitterly disappointed over their inability to parade. They say they didn’t know they had to have a permit or they’d have secured one. They will make application for a permit on Monday, and if all goes well will turn out on Monday night, marching through Broadway, Fifth avenue and the Bowery and going as far uptown as Forty-second street. They expect to turn out 3,000 strong. 

Four agents of the World and Journal made a tour of the Bowery lodging houses last night, not looking for arbitrators, but offering $2 a day and 40 cents for each 100 papers sold, to men who would report at the offices of the newspaper to-day. They got about 100 names and left very much elated. At 10 o’clock an extremely candid man, a little worse for liquor and wear, rolled into The Sun office.

“I’m a Bowery bum,” he said, “and one of about a hundred that’s signed to take out Worlds and Journals to-morrow. But say, we ain’t a-going to do it. It’s all a bluff. We told them scouts that we’d do it when they offered $2 a day, but every one of us has decided to stick by the newsboys and we won’t sell no papers. Put that in the pape and tell the public that it’s on the level.”

The labor columns of the boycotted papers have been silent about the strike. 

All of that was the entirety of The Sun’s July 23rd, 1899 article about the newsboys strike. As we learned before the Washington Times also published an article about the strike in their July 23rd Sunday edition. It’s worth including to get another side of the story. Don’t worry, it’s much shorter, too.




The Urchins Getting Aggressive and the Police Watchful.


New York, July 22—The striking newsboys still hold out, and their tactics have become so aggressive up town and down town as to attract the close attention of police captains of the different precincts. The newsboys today declare that their ranks are swelling every hour the strike continues. 

“We’s got de fresh guys on de wagons scared now,” said “Kid” Blink, “an’ de man’gers can’t find no one to cirkelate de papers. Say, we’s winnin’ easy. We’s”—pointing with his thumb over his shoulder at his gang behind him—”de kids, de bosses said, couldn’t get de strike on no morn ‘n we could tie knots in a pail of water!” 

Scenes of disorder were not so frequent about Printing House Square today. There were parades, however, and occasionally a good deal of noise. It was hard to buy one of the tabooed papers—the Evening World and Journal—in this locality, but it was an easy matter up town. Last night the boys ran riot, and several were arrested, spanked, and set free. 

Several strikers attacked a youngster on Frankfort Street this morning, accusing him of being false to the union. They gave him a severe beating with sticks and clubs. He was rescued by a policeman and taken to a drug store, where a few wounds on his head and face were dressed. Finally he was put on a Third Avenue car and sent home. The attacking strikers were too quick for the police. As “Kid” Blink said: “De cops couldn’t run fast enough.” 

One newsboy, who said he was twenty-one years old, was fined $5 in Jefferson Market Court this morning for taking part in a disturbance at Greeley Square last night. 

That’s the end of the coverage from the Washington Times on July 23rd, 1899. While it seems to be obviously biased toward the side of the policemen, between these two articles we can start to paint a picture of what the strike was like. And we also get a sense for the words used, and how the slang terms and accents used in Newsies seem to be pretty spot on. 

According to these articles, the strike was much more of a violent strike than what we saw in the movie, with regular beatings of the newsboys who didn’t strike—scabs, to use the derogatory slang term of the day. 

In the movie, the striking newsboys make their own paper to get the word out. While none of those have survived through history, perhaps those are the circulars the articles talked about.  

Back in the movie, the ending is a happy one for the newsboys as Robert Duvall’s version of Joseph Pulitzer finally ends up caving and lowering the prices. 

While the specifics of these events were fictionalized for the film, the basic gist is true. 

As a result of the strike in 1899, the New York World saw a circulation of 360,000 drop to 125,000. It’s fair to assume it was similar for the Journal, although we don’t have their numbers. 

At the time, a copy of the World cost two cents. So their daily circulation of 360,000 would bring in $7,200 a day. That’s equivalent to about $210,000 today. No small chunk of change, especially considering that’s per day.  

So a drop in readership to 125,000 readers would mean instead of $7,200 per day they’d bring in about $2,500 per day, or about $73,000 in today’s dollars.


That means, roughly speaking of course, Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper was losing at least $4,700 per day, or the equivalent of $137,000 per day in today’s money. 

The newsboys’ strike lasted for two weeks, and while it wasn’t like the World circulation dropped hundreds of thousands of readers immediately, we can still estimate that if Pulitzer was losing $4,700 per day, they could’ve lost as much as $65,800 over the course of two weeks. 

That’s $1.9 million today. 

While Newsies may not have been an entirely accurate retelling of the newsboys’ strike of 1899, the end result was very similar. A band of young children, many of whom were forced into child labor just to be able to survive living on the streets of New York City, took on the incredibly rich.

Not only the incredibly rich, but the rich men who controlled the news—they controlled what the public could find out. Now I try to keep my own opinions and bias out of this podcast as much as possible. But as I’ve done a lot of research, one thing has become plainly clear: if there’s anything history has taught us, it’s that—just like Bill Pullman’s character in Newsies —if it’s not printed in the paper, it didn’t happen. 

Some people throughout history haven’t been so shy about controlling the news just so they can push across their own agenda. 

Joseph Goebbels and Edward Bernays are just a couple examples of people in history who saw the power of being in control of the news. 

In the days of Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst, it was derogatorily called yellow journalism. That term may have changed, but there’s just as much fake reporting and shallow journalism out there—if not more.


Today you can substitute “printed in the paper” with any other number of mediums that technology have opened up, but the message is the same. There’s great power with those who create content online. You and I are the ones who consume that content, so it’s the responsibility of you and I to hold those in power to tell the stories as accurately and without bias as possible. 

So what happened to Kid Blink and the rest of the newsboys? Unfortunately, we just don’t know. Even though they technically won the strike in 1899, they seemingly disappeared after this. Was it because, in a very Disney-esque type ending, they drifted off into obscurity as they lived happily ever after?  

Or was it because Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst, the two kings of journalism in New York City who had spent years as bitter rivals, had themselves found a new common enemy? 

We don’t know. And since much of the history we do know about was written under the guidance of Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst we’ll likely never know.



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