The term “newsies” was coined during the Industrial Revolution to describe children who were hired to sell newspapers. In the 1992 chef-d’oeuvre movie, Newsies, directed by Kenny Ortega, underage boys go on strike complaining about the increment of the wholesale price of newspapers in Brooklyn. In the movie, John Pulitzer, the publisher of the New York World, decides to increase the wholesale prices for newspapers by 10 percent in an attempt to outdo his competitor, William Randolph Hearst. In response, the newsies decide to go on a strike for such an increment would mean making huge losses because the distributor does not take back unsold papers in the evening. The movie is based on true events that took place in 1899 when newsboys went on strike to resist the increment of wholesale prices for newspapers. The connection between the events in the movie, Newsies and the Industrial Revolution is the use of child labor and the conditions under which they worked.
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In the movie, publishers such as John Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst use children to sell newspapers. The newsies have to buy a bundle of 100 newspapers at 60 cents, which was slightly more than the previous price of 50 cents (The New York Times 1889). Additionally, they incur losses if they do not sell all the newspapers by evening because the publishers do not take back the remaining stock. As such, the children are not making any substantial amount of money to support their poor lives. Similarly, the Industrial Revolution was characterized by child labor and meager wages. Horrell and Humphries (1995) note that child labor was common during the Industrial Revolution because it was cheap, and children could be manipulated easily. The common jobs for children included separating chunks of coal as breaker boys, as “matchgirls” in different match factories, and as newsies where they would sell newspapers in large cities (Humphries 2008).
Child laborers lived in squalid conditions, and the majority of them slept on the street to ensure that they had maximum time on the job. According to Humphries (2008), newsboys were mostly orphans with no place to call home, and thus they lived on the streets. In the movie, the publisher is targeting high-profit margins by increasing the cost of wholesale prices without effecting an equivalent increment on the retail end. Similarly, Humphries (2008) notes that during the Industrial Revolution, at times, factory owners would refuse to pay child laborers their dues for different reasons. For instance, employers would claim that they were offering food and shelter for orphans. However, the claim that factories offered shelter for children was misconstrued because laborers had to spend over 18 hours working. As such, they actually lived in the factories. In the movie, it emerges that Jack has escaped from the Refuge, which is an orphanage where children are mistreated. The Refuge’s warden, Snyder, embezzles the money allocated to the orphanage by the city, and thus the children suffer due to neglect. The factories in the Industrial Revolution can be likened to the Refuge in the movie.
The issue of child labor and poor living conditions is the connection between the events in the movie Newsies and the Industrial Revolution. In both cases, children are exploited as workers for they earn peanuts and live under poor conditions.
Horrell, Sara, and Jane Humphries. 1995. “The Exploitation of Little Children: Child Labor and the Family Economy in the Industrial Revolution.” Explorations in Economic History 32 (4): 485-516.
Humphries, Jane. 2008. “Cliometrics, Child Labor, and the Industrial Revolution.” Critical Review 13 (3): 269-283.
Newsies. Directed by Kenny Ortega. 1992. Burbank: Walt Disney Pictures. Film.
The New York Times. 1889. “Newsboys on Strike; Many Fights and Two Arrests by the Police.” The New York Times, Web.