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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The Toledo Newsboys' Band

17 November 2012

Every morning a newspaper magically appears on my front walk, and in return for her breakfast, my dog will eagerly retrieve it to the house. Given the lightweight pages of today's news, she may have the better bargain. It is odd that in the many years of our subscription, I have never met the delivery person who drives down our street in the predawn hours to toss the rolled newspaper over the fence gate. Perhaps I would pay better attention if it was delivered by a marching band like the Toledo Newsboys' Band, pictured here in a patriotic parade and led by a diminutive drum major wearing an impressive bearskin hat. The postcard was a free souvenir from the Toledo Blade newspaper, and it was posted to Mr. & Mrs. E. H. Porter of Sand Creek, Michigan on September 3, 1907.

Dear Mama & Papa & Mabel
I arrived here safely and have started school today. I have the same teacher I had before & I'm thinking some of going to another school if we stay here much longer. I guess I will close.
Your summer son Walter
P.S. I have not heard from Bertha     yet.  Walter

I like the idea of a summer son. I used to have an all-season son, but alas he is now only a son for the holidays.

In 1907, a young boy might find work as a newsboy, but it was not a teenager on his bicycle doing an afternoon paper route. It was long hours from early morning to late night, hawking the latest edition of the news in all kinds of weather and at every street corner, street car, pub, and hotel. The competition was fierce as most cities and small towns had multiple newspapers. A morning paper and an evening tabloid. A commercial advertiser and a sporting gazette. A Democrat tribune and a Republican herald.

The newspaper publishers were one of many industries that hired children as pickers, gleaners, breakers, sweepers, miners, ushers, match makers, cigar rollers, bobbin doffers, and hundreds of other difficult and dangerous jobs. Taking advantage of the era's difficult social conditions, many employers routinely exploited child labor for its cheap wages. In the case of the publishers,  they considered the newsboys to be independent agents, as newsies bought newspapers on bulk discount and then sold them for 3¢ to 5¢ apiece. But the publishers did not buy back any unsold papers. A boy might make 30¢ or 50¢ a day, or not if sales were poor.

Newsboy - New Haven, Conn. 1909
Lewis Hine  -  U.S. National Archives
This photograph comes from the Lewis Hine collection on which has over 500 photographs that Hine took in the early 1900s for the National Child Labor Committee.
Hine's description reads:
12 year old Newsboy. Hyman Alpert, been selling three years.
Spends evenings in Boys Club. New Haven, Conn, March 1909
The NCLC was lobbying Congress to put an end to this abuse of children in the American labor force. It impossible to look at these astonishing images and not be moved by the hardship and suffering that many children endured in this era.

Newsboys - Hartford, Conn. 1909
Lewis Hine  -  U.S. National Archives
Another group of newsboys, most of whom look about 9 to 12 years old, photographed by Hine with this caption:
Sunday noon. Some of the newsboys returning Sunday papers.
Many of them had been out since 5 and 6 A.M. Hartford, Conn, March 1909

These boys were street kids who probably had little time for reading or any academic exercise. Left on their own by working or even absent parents, the boys (and girls too) grew up around vice of all kinds. Gambling, liquor, smoking, and petty crime became their school and newsboys frequently became entangled in gangs, corruption, and violence.

Wayward youth were recognized as a major social problem in American cities as the 19th century ended. And though many people could see the problem, few were offering a solution. But in Toledo, Ohio one man decided that he would try to make a difference. His name was John E. Gunckel, (1846-1915).

Gunckel was a railroad ticket agent who regularly encountered the misbehavior of newsboys. Being of generous spirit, he began treating a few boys to a wholesome dinner and encouraging them to aspire to a better life. Before long he had befriended so many that, in 1891 he invited 102 newsboys for a Christmas banquet. This became his starting point for forming the Toledo Newsboy Association. 

As president of the organization, Gunckel helped the boys organize their own rules and government. They were to play square, live clean, be honest and respect others. Smoking, drinking, and theft were not tolerated and the boys policed themselves. They wore badges and had an official membership card.

The Toledo Newsboys Band

After establishing a kind of guild that included both newsboys and shoe blacks, they wanted the public to see them as professionals. I found a news report that in July 1894, the newsboys went on strike to protest the reduction in price of the Morning Commercial paper from 3¢ to 1¢. This predates the more celebrated Newsboy Strike of 1899 in New York City when newsboys successfully protested against the newspapers of  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

By 1893 the Toledo Newsboys Association had over 250 members, and they began adding activities that only members could participate in. A music instructor was found to start a band program which soon became the best way to promote the organization. It was so successful that in 1905, the Toledo Newsboys Band and Cadets were invited to Washington D.C. to march in the inauguration parade of President Theodore Roosevelt.

This photo of newsboys and shoe blacks shows some of the charter members of the Toledo Newsboys Association. It was taken from Boyville, a book written in 1905 by John E. Gunckle. By this year, Toledo was part of the National Newsboys Association, and Gunckel had become their national voice. He began advocating for funds to build a proper clubhouse, a building just for the Newsboys, which was dedicated in 1911. The second band photocard shows them standing in front of the main entrance, the postmark is 12 Sept 1912.

John Gunckel died in 1915, a beloved and cherished benefactor. His legacy is that the National Newsboys Association evolved into part of the Boys & Girls Club of America. Communities around the country now have these clubs, just like the Toledo Newsboys Association, that offer activities, training opportunities, guidance and above all a safe and trusted environment for thousands of disadvantaged children. 

The John E. Gunckel Monument


Gunckel was buried in Toledo's Woodlawn Cemetery, and the newsboys of Toledo built a 30' x 26' stone pyramid in his honor, each stone a contribution from a child. The epitaph reads:

Who saw in every boy a man
Of worth and purpose like Gods plan
and said to him: Do right-You can!
The Boys Club of America.

Sandusky OH Star Journal - 1 July 1911

This last story appeared in the July 1, 1911 edition of the Sandusky Star Journal. It's a report of two Toledo boys who have run away from home to follow a circus. Their hope was to find work as candy butchers or vendors, but a sharp eyed butcher who also hails from Toledo recognizes one boy and turns them in, to be returned to their parents.
It was the boy in the tall bearskin cap leading the Toledo Newsboys Band.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link to find out what everyone else is reading this weekend.


Bob Scotney said...

This is one of the best posts you have presented, Mike. Have you any plans for it to be published? It has historical value I'm sure.

Peter said...

I'm with Bob on this and I said it last week as well: WE WANT A BOOK, WE WANT A BOOK! :) But I mean it!
I had no clue these boys had to buy the papers from the publishers and resell them at their own risk. It must have been a fine but tough training for entrepreneurs-to-be.

Kristin said...

This was a good post. I read every word and felt for those boys out there selling papers from dawn to dusk, and if I remember sometimes sleeping on the streets.

Postcardy said...

I think that was one of your most interesting posts too. It was interesting to read about the newsboys' life.

Howard said...

Fascinating stuff Mike. What miserable childhoods they must have had.

Unknown said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed many of your posts but this ranks up there with the best of them! I agree that you should publish.

I'm still partial too your fictional tale of the steamboat musicians - Objectivity may be a bit of a problem as that story was set so close to my home. But, I would also love to see a book of short fiction! :)

Alan Burnett said...

Some of my favourite moments have been after a really nice meal with fascinating friends talking about all the things that interest me and suddenly the bottle of rare single malt whisky comes out and I settle down to the crowning glory of the evening. Just like when your posts come near the end of the Linky List. Cheers, Mike.

Wendy said...

Like you, I've never seen my paper man, but I have clear memories from my childhood of the boy who delivered papers, dispensed change from a coin changer on his belt, and peeked through our front door window when he came to collect. I always thought delivering papers was a good job for a kid, but anymore it's rather dangerous being out so early in the morning. It seems always to have been a dangerous job, judging by this post. I appreciate how you always show how music elevates the lives of the down-trodden whether they're convicts, prisoners of war, orphans, or street urchins.

Kat Mortensen said...

Reading your posts is always a wonderful experience, Mike. I learn something new every time, and come away feeling the better for it.

I was truly curious to see what this philanthropist, Gunckel looked like and I found this link:

I saw the movie, "Newsies" (with a young Christian Bale) a long time ago and I understand it's been turned into a Broadway show recently. I can't recall whether it was about the Gunckel newsboys, but I bet it was!

Your "all-season" son comment made me think of Harry Chapin.

Kat Mortensen said...

P.S. I wonder if "Hyman Alpert" was related to Herb.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

I am always mesmerized by your posts, this one was no exception. I knew a little about the newsboys from reading I have done but this really told the true story. The pictures kind of reminded me of "Spanky and the Gang" with Alfalfa. I look forward to your posts and agree with everyone else that you should publish a book. I look forward to more!

Bruno Laliberté said...

Must have been quite a sight to see such boys on strike, especially against tycoons...

Interesting piece of history.
I remeber going in my teens to a local boysclub, only to discover my total lack of athletic skills...
like, totally!!!


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