Steve Woods

Newspaper Carriers : Secret Heroes Among Us?

In What Day is it? on September 4, 2009 at 12:07 pm
Old-Style Paperboy

Old-Style Paperboy

Your parents remember them. Dark shadows, crunching through the snow, hunched over their handlebars in the drizzling rain, or whistling early mornings on summer days, enormous bag strapped to their back. Once a month they knocked on your family’s front door, sometime after dinner, and began the negotiations, receipt book in hand, to get that payment. I recall as a youth seeing them and admiring their ability to be out late at night and early in the morning, discovering what secrets were held by the neighborhood while I slept.

In late 1833, a burgeoning New York Sun ran an advertisement asking for young men to deliver its newspaper around the city. The advertisement read, “To the unemployed a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper.” On September 4th of that same year, 10-year-old Barney Flaherty responded to the ad and was hired by the publisher to sell copies of his up-and-coming newspaper.  In order to become the very first newspaper carrier, Barney had to prove he could toss a rolled-up paper from the street into the bushes of a home.

Since that day, newspaper carriers (or paper boys) began to be hired across the USA, distributing various tomes to sleepy customers, knocking over flower pots, breaking windows, scaring sleeping cats, landing on rooftops, and occasionally making it onto a rare porch in the process.  In middle school, I have fond memories of walking with my friend Keith almost 30 years ago as he tried to collect the monthly dues. The neighborhood secrets began to unfurl themselves for me as well…

Today, if we are unfortunate to be up early enough, we will see that the vast majority of newspapers are delivered by adults in cars. I am always amazed to see how many rolled-up papers can be crammed into the back of an ancient Pinto…

Although the sound of the paper smacking your home’s siding each morning might be a tad annoying, rest assured the denizens of news delivery are an alert and able-bodied group of neighborhood watchmen…   In 1985, a 14-year-old paperboy in Detroit was given the key to the city after foiling an attempted rape of an 11-year-old girl. He held the would-be rapist at bay with only a stick until the police arrived.  In 2008, a Sycamore, Illinois paperboy noticed mail and newspapers piling up outside an elderly woman’s house. Upon further inspection, he discovered the occupant had fallen three days earlier, and was near-death from dehydration. In August of this year, a Mississauga, Toronto newspaper carrier discovered a van parked near a small home, which had been set on fire by kids. She knocked on doors, alerted the homeowner, and firefighters came to the scene, putting out the fire before the fire had a chance to reach the gas tank and explode.

Next time you hear the soft “swutch” of a rolled-up newspaper hitting and sliding on your driveway, brimming over with ads and inserts, remember that your fair city is being crawled over by good, hard-working citizens with eagle eyes and full coffee mugs, carrying on the fine tradition of service set by Barney Flaherty.

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  1. Thank you for writing this. My boys have passed down a paper route for 5 years. It is a family affair. we have 55 papers to deliver in the wee hours, come rain, snow or ice.we only recieve 3 tips a month, mostly from elderly who make specific request where to place the paper. This has reminded them what they do in important. PS we love “newsies”.

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