This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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A Newsboy from Milwaukee

27 April 2013

"Extra, extra! Read all about it," the newsboy cries. It's a cliche that has lost its context, if not its meaning as well. When was the last time any newspaper printed an Extra edition?
So let's turn the calendar back to another century and meet a boy who knew those street calls well, as he is a proud member of the Milwaukee Journal Newsboys Band.

As an occupation, the newsboy's day is long past from when he was essential to the success of a newspaper business. In the 1900s, most cities could boast of at least two or even several news publishers, so competition was fierce, and newsboys were the key to sales. Hundreds of boys hawked papers on every corner, at every hotel, and outside every cafe, restaurant, and saloon.  It was hard work. In the late 1890s, the Milwaukee Journal recognized the value of these young employees and organized the boys in order to boost sales. They offered summer recreation and other boys' club activities, and for a few select newboys there was a place in the brass band. This lad in his wonderful uniform has an alto horn (a tenor horn in the UK) and the Milwaukee Journal badge on his cap.

Most of the photos of newsboy bands are souvenir postcards like the Toledo Newsboy Band story I wrote about last year. So this cabinet photograph by Prescher of 527 Chestnut St. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is unusual to show a single child musician. Unfortunately the boy's name is not recorded, but we can learn more about his band.

The band was organized in 1898 with around 40-45 young musicians whose average age was 14. This boy looks about 10 or 12, I think.  On August 26, 1899, The Milwaukee Journal ran an article on the great summer outing they produced for the hundreds of newsboys who sold their newspaper. Over 1,200 boys were taken to the beach at Lake Michigan where there was swimming, sporting events, and a picnic too. The Journal's Newsboys Band led the parade to the train station. This image is a poor reproduction from the digitized newspaper article, but there is just enough clarity to recognize the fancy buttoned uniform and flat cap. 

The Milwaukee Journal
August 26, 1899

In this era there were few protections given to child labor. Newsboys, and sometimes girls too, often started work as young as 6 or 7 years old. And the work hours began in the early morn and lasted until late evening. Each boy had a small territory, perhaps a street intersection, or a hotel district to attract buyers for the daily paper. A copy of the Milwaukee Journal sold for three-cents. The dealer collected two-cents and the newsboy kept one-cent. If he was lucky he might pick up a tip. In 1900, Milwaukee had over 2,500 newsboys selling papers.

The man in charge of this youthful army was the Journal's circulation manager, Bert Hall.  A small monthly religious digest called The Philosopher, published by Van Vechten & Ellis in Wausau, Wisconsin, printed this tribute to Mr. Hall in August 1903. 

One of the really great men I know is Bert Hall. Probably you never heard of him. But then, you don't have the chance I do to bump up against the Truly Great. Ostensibly, Bert Hall is the circulation manager of The Milwaukee Journal .....  Mr Hall is engaged in working up the raw material afforded by twenty five hundred newsboys, into future presidents, senators, ministers, plenipotentiary, or any other old thing above aldermen. The hardest thing a circulation manager has to manage is the newsboys. That's where many a good man falls down [the] cellar. Hall is one of the few men who has discovered the fact that good Aunt Mary Philip out at Hillside found out years ago __ that there's more good than bad to any boy __ if you have wit enough to get at it. 


Mr Hall's theory is that to make a boy a good newsboy, you've got to make him a good boy. And he has a genius for that that I wish he could put up in small bottles and sell for general use. The boys of today suffer more moral starvation from the lack of sane and wholesome stimulus in right directions, than they do from all the vice and folly that assails them. A boy can't work for Bert Hall and be a bad boy. The boy doesn't live that would have the nerve to try it. He may be a successful circulation manager but it isn't a patch to his success as a boy manager.

In the summer of 1903 the band was sent on a tour of Wisconsin cities to raise money for various charities. I suspect that this photograph of a stalwart newsie and bandboy was taken in 1903 and used for promoting the band. Perhaps he was the alto horn soloist or a successful news agent. The same unknown writer in the The Philosopher  gave this description of the band. (The Philosopher's print shop was also called The Cabin)

The largest single class that has ever taken the degree right here in The Cabin was The Milwaukee Journal Newsboys band ~ and they are a band in more ways than one. In the second place they are about the best brass band you ever heard, and in the first place they are a band of as fine young lads as could well be brought together. They are boys who have to hustle, which is good for them, but they also have something to hustle for, which is worth while. They are bright, active, live, up-to-date, sincere, lusty boys and they put the same fresh young enthusiasm into their music that they do into baseball or selling papers, or doing anything else that they love to do. 

And that is where Bert Hall comes in. He makes a Milwaukee Journal newsboy understand, from the start, that if he is going to be a newsboy at all, it's worth while being a good one and worth trying to be the best one. Then he puts this band of forty five pieces right in the center of a gang of twenty five hundred newsboys, and from the farthest edge of the circle every one of that quarter of a thousand is hustling to edge his way in to the band. But there is only one way he can get in. Musical ability won't do it; as many a boy who was valuable to the band from a musical standpoint has been shut out because he didn't come up to the standard as a boy. That is the first demand __ he must be right as a boy; then he must be a good newsboy __ then if he can't play anything this side of a jewsharp, he is turned over to Mr Bennest, who teaches him to play something and teaches him to play it well. 


The band stands for proved effort on the part of every member of it. And so it comes about that you will have to hunt a long ways and a long time to find a better lot of youngsters than are these. They wrote their names on our Book, and there is no finer page in the book, even though most of it is an eloquent testimonial to the utter futility of the new-fangled system of straight-backed writing. And even among the selections they played out on the lawn while they were waiting for the train, there was no music half so sweet as the lusty yell they gave when somebody propounded an inquiry as to what was the matter with the Log Cabin. It is settled now for all time that it's all right.

Being a Milwaukee Journal newsboy was a privilege. Being a musician in the Journal's Newsboys Band was an honor. I bet this boy sold a lot of papers.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Where everyone is reading the news today.

This smiling Maryland boy celebrated being 84 years young this week. He is my father, Russell Brubaker, dressed in his best suit for his high school senior photo.

I don't know when he got his first camera, but for as long as I can remember, his photos have recorded our family life. More pictures of people, places, and events than I could ever count. Even a few of a young boy in a band uniform with his horn.

It's a sharp eye that takes a good photo, and even if all those lessons on lens and F-stops and film speed seem irrelevant now in our digital age, it was his many great photos that inspired me to take up collecting vintage photographs and write about them on this blog.

From time to time, I'd like to include some of those photos too, but meanwhile here's one from my camera.

>> <<

So happy birthday, Dad. Here's looking at you, kid.


Bob Scotney said...

Another super post, Mike. Good to see you Dad at the end.

Jackie/Jake said...

Great post! And i love the photo of your dad today!

Nancy said...

Oh, how fun. Seeing your dad's graduation photo, then seeing him looking through the camera ... fabulous!

I really enjoyed the part of your post about the newsboy band. It was easy to mentally walk back to that time period and imagine what it meant for a boy to be under the care of Bert Hall and to really want to do well.

Thanks for a doubly great post!

Brett Payne said...

I think I'd rather hide in the cellar rather than try to manage a couple of thousands young lads. It must have taken some very special skills, and perhaps a good deal of "rule by the rod." Paper rounds are still done by youngsters in the suburbs here, although generally just the junk mail offerings. They are not paid well at all, but many jump at the chance to earn a little pocket money.

I hope you'll entertain us with some of your Dad's photos in due course. I suppose for many the lessons learnt of exposure, f-stops, film and shutter speed may be irrelevant, but even with a digital camera it helps to have a good understanding of these things. It's easy to sitch to the Automatic setting and forget about everything, but that often doesn't give the best shots.

Kristin said...

I hope you will post the photo your father took of you while you were taking the photo of him one day.

viridian said...

In a earlier Sepia Saturday I posted an image of a newsboy in Chicago. I recall that daily paper also had activities and a parade for the boys.

Alex Daw said...

Such a great post. I learned so much. Who would have thunk. Thanks for all the effort and hard work put into this post. I really enjoyed it.

Sharon said...

Great Post. Our local paper has recently ceased using paperboys (to save money of course).

I just love that photo of you dad with the camera.

Little Nell said...

An enjoyable post again Mike, and I have to say I stand in awe of anyone who can have that kind of power over boys who suffer from 'moral starvation'! Nice to meet Mt Brubaker Snr too.

Kathy Morales said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your post today and nice to see you dad young and younger.


On theme and with a wonderful story to tell, only to reveal that special connection to it at the end.
Well done Mike, well done!!
And happy birthday to your father.


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