1918 Philadelphia ‘Bulletin’ News Vendors’ Coaster Wagon

 PREV  ITEM 13 / 27  NEXT 



1839 child labour

In 1898, the Spanish-American War increased newspaper sales, so several publishers raised the cost of a newsboy bundle of 100 newspapers from 50¢ to 60¢, a price increase that at the time was offset by the increased sales. After the war, many papers reduced the cost back to previous levels, with the notable exceptions of the The Evening World and the New York Evening Journal. 

On July 21, 1899, a large number of New York City newsboys refused to distribute the papers of Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of ‘The World’ and William Randoplh Hearst, publisher of ‘The Journal.’ The strikers demonstrated across Brooklyn Bridge for several days, bringing traffic to a standstill, along with the news distribution for most New England cities. They kept others from selling the papers by tearing up the distribution in the streets. The boys also requested from the public that they no longer buy either paper until the strike was settled. Pulitzer tried to hire older men to do the boys’ job, but the men understood their stance and wanted no part in defying the boys. Several rallies drew more than 5,000 newsboys, complete with charismatic speeches by strike leader Kid Blink.

So named because he was blind in one eye, Kid Blink (Louis Ballatt) was a popular subject among competing newspapers such as the New York Tribune, who often patronizingly quoted Blink with his heavy Brooklyn accent depicted as an eye dialect, attributing to him such sayings as “Me men is nobul.” Blink and his strikers were the subject of violence, as well. Hearst and Pulitzer hired men to break up rallies and protect the newspaper deliveries still underway. During one rally Blink told strikers, “Friens and feller workers. This is a time which tries de hearts of men. Dis is de time when we’se got to stick together like glue…. We know wot we wants and we’ll git it even if we is blind.”

Although The World and The Journal did not lower their 60¢-a-bundle price, they did agree to buy back all unsold papers and the union disbanded, ending the strike on August 2, 1899.

Child labour was not an invention of the Industrial Revolution. Poor children have always started work as soon as their parents could find employment for them. But in much of pre-industrial Britain, there simply was not very much work available for children. This changed with industrialisation. The new factories and mines were hungry for workers and required the execution of simple tasks that could easily be performed by children. The result was a surge in child labour and, in industrial areas in Great Britain, children started work on average at eight and a half years old. There was a considerable campaign in Great Britain against child labour, culminating in two important pieces of legislation – the Factory Act (1833) and the Mines Act (1842). By the end of Victoria’s reign, most children were in school up to the age of 12.

Much of the Victorian child labour force in Great Britain and America was hidden from view; though articles and some books were written about them, few photos exist of them today. But in some professions they were in the public eye and there is a photographic record. In America these jobs include Western Union messengers, shoe-shine boys and news vendors, who were commonly known as ‘newsies.’

‘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 usually homeless children working until very late at night and earning around 30 cents a day. The boys did not actually work for the newspapers, but instead acted as independent agents, buying the papers to sell for that day. That meant they lost money on the unsold papers. As one newspaper writer of the late 19th cent wrote about them:

‘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.’

1918 newsies

 1918 ‘Bulletin’ News Vendors’ Coaster Wagon

Philadelphia: ‘The Bulletin’

manufactured by White Wagon Works, South Sheboygan, Wisconsin


WIDTH: 10″

Says Gordon Westover in the book Coasting on Wheels –

‘During the early 1900s, publishers used coaster wagons extensively for delivering newspapers to residents and businesses. Many of the newspaper companies provided wagons with their company names on the sides of the wagons for their news carriers. White Wagon Works manufactured many coaster wagons for newspaper companies in the 1910s and 1920s. A Chicago newspaper decided to give each of its delivery boys a White coaster wagon for Christmas. The Washington Times also ordered seventy-five wagons to be used for its delivery boys.’

This news vendor coaster wagon is stencilled with the name of the Bulletin, Philadelphia’s newspaper.




Officials in Philadelphia knew what was coming their way. All through September 1918 they had seen reports coming out of Boston of a virulent, deadly influenza. In fact, the Philadelphia Bureau of Public Health had issued a bulletin about the so-called Spanish influenza as early as July 1918. Despite the prescience of some, Philadelphia’s health and city officials had failed to even list influenza as a reportable disease, placing the city’s population of nearly two million in grave danger.

The timing of the epidemic’s arrival in Philadelphia could not have been worse. Over one-quarter of the city’s doctors, and a larger portion of its nurses, were lending their medical talents to the nation’s war efforts. At Philadelphia Hospital, 75% of medical and support staff were overseas. Such personnel shortages were an issue even before influenza had hit; once it did, lack of adequate medical help contributed to influenza’s deadly impact.

On September 28, 200,000 people gathered for a fourth Liberty Loan Drive. Funding the war effort and showing one’s patriotic colors took precedence over concern for public health. Just days after the parade, 635 new cases of influenza were reported. By mid-October, their numbers ran into the hundreds of thousands. Hospitals quickly reached capacity. Church parish houses and state armories doubled as shelters for the sick.

As November rolled around, Philadelphia, like the rest of the nation, turned its rapt attention to the armistice ending the Great War. Slowly life returned to normal. But few would, or could, forget the horrible toll exacted by the influenza of 1918, as the City of Brotherly Love lost nearly 13,000 of her citizens in a matter of weeks.






News vendor coaster wagon info and White Mfg Co patent illustration from the book – Coasting on Wheels by Gordon Westover

1899 Newsboy strike info with thanks to – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsboys%27_strike_of_1899

Newsies info with thanks to – http://ants-and-grasshoppers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/kids-in-america-1906-1914.html

News of the World child labour article with thanks to – https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/europes-newest-kingdom-a-victoria-ii-belgian-aar-pod.752716/

Child Labour in Britain – http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/child-labour

G Sommers info with thanks to – http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/34/v34i03p106-113.pdf

Spanish flu – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/influenza-philadelphia/