In 1899, a newspaper boy (a “newsie,” as they were called in that day) named Kid Blink took on Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer by making all the news that’s fit to print harder to buy. The two publishing giants had decided to boost profits by increasing the boys’ out-of-pocket costs, so the boys decided to make some news of their own.
The story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 has found its way onto the Broadway stage in Disney Theatrical Productions’ Newsies: The Musical, a stage musical based on the 1992 film Newsies; the musical made its Nashville debut at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in May. Along with bringing Newsies: The Musical to Nashville, TPAC has collaborated with the Tennessee State Museum on a companion exhibit, NEWSIES: A Tennessee Special Edition. The exhibit is on view in the G-Level Gallery of the James K. Polk Cultural Center through August 2015. (The exhibit originally was supposed to close in June 2015; TPAC and the Tennessee State Museum have decided to extend the closing.)
NEWSIES: A Tennessee Special Edition highlights the state’s rich printing history. With assistance from the Nashville Public Library’s Special Collections and curated by Jim Hoobler, the exhibit presents historic vignettes of newspaper printing in Tennessee and, specifically, in Nashville’s famed Printer’s Alley. Over time, the museum has collected several photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), the American sociologist and photographer who used his camera as a tool for social reform. Some of Hine’s images of newspaper delivery boys and other children in labor settings are featured in the exhibit.
Other sections of the exhibit examine how original printing terms have survived into the digital age, showcase scans of historic fronts from the Nashville Banner, and provide a timeline of events. Many images from the Nashville Banner archives are featured in NEWSIES: A Tennessee Special Edition. The newspaper operated continuously in Nashville for 122 years, from 1876 to 1998. Additionally, the Tennessee State Museum has a large collection of items pertaining to the state’s printing industry. A section of the exhibit examines how old-fashioned printing terms have made their way into the digital age. It also includes a recreation of the Knoxville Gazette printing press and pressroom.
“And now, you know the rest of the story”
Mary Skinner of the Tennessee State Museum offers the following account of Kid Blink and the Newsboys Strike of 1899:
“In 1899, the streets of New York City were filled with the voices of the Newsboys. Back then, newspapers were the only types of media in the city. They were the only ways to get information about what was going on in the world. There were two major newspapers sold, The New York World and The New York Journal. These newspapers were owned by the two most powerful men in the city of New York, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Newspapers usually were sold a ‘penny a paper’.
“One day, Pulitzer and Hearst met and agreed that they wanted to earn more money. They threw out different ideas, including cutting salaries of the people working in factories and firing people whose jobs weren’t as essential as others’. Pulitzer and Hearst finally came to the idea of raising the taxes that the Newsboys paid for newspapers. They made it official and raised the prices on newspapers from 50 cents to 60 cents. The Newsboys could hardly pay for the newspapers at the price it already was. That’s when the Newsies made a stand and made history in one of the most significant strikes that initiated with children.
“In July of 1899, a huge group of Newsboys refused to sell newspapers that were published by Joseph Pulitzer (The New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (The New York Journal). The strike expanded across the Brooklyn Bridge for several days, which resulted in a large block in traffic. In addition, the strike ended the selling of newspapers that were published by Pulitzer and Hearst in most of the New England cities. More than 5,000 Newsboys across the city participated in rallies across the area. At times, Pulitzer and Hearst had to break up rallies and make sure that the newspaper deliveries were protected. All rallies included speeches, given by none other than the leader of the strike himself: Kid Blink.
Kid Blink wore an eye patch because he was blind in one eye. He also worked for other newspapers in New York, including the New York Tribune. Members of the New York Tribune staff often patronized Blink when they quoted him because of his strong Brooklyn accent. Blink was famous for a saying to strikers, he said, ‘Friens and feller workers. Dis 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.’”
Admission to the Tennessee State Museum is free. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday: from 1:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. (The museum is closed on Mondays.)