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Monday
Oct192009

The Newspaper Boy

What did Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Wayne, and Martin Luther King all have in common?

They were all former paper boys.

Long before the newspaper industry went into decline, the newspaper delivery boy disappeared, and that is a shame.

Not only from a nostalgic perspective, but a newspaper route gave a kid a certain amount of independence, and above all it taught the importance of taking responsibility.

Once a youngster had taken on the job, a commitment had been made and there were an awful lot of individuals relying on this young bicycle courier for their daily paper.

There were many reasons the newspaper boy disappeared. Fear by parents for the youngster’s safety, changing child labor laws, school classes starting earlier, etc., etc.

There was hardly a Hollywood movie made up until the 1970s, set in suburban America, that didn’t include a scene where a newspaper boy is riding his bike, and throwing newspapers somewhere in the approximation of the front porch.

Strange thing is, I occasionally see a newspaper boy depicted in a TV commercial, are there still any out there; has anyone seen a real one lately?

It occurred to me that a lot of readers that visit here are ex-newspaper boys or girls, and maybe for some that’s how interest in cycling began.

I thought it would be interesting to hear some of your experiences, and to know how long ago that was. Kind of like a survey to find when and why the newspaper boy went into decline. 

 

Reader Comments (25)

I have many happy memories of my "paper round" in Edinburgh (Scotland) in the late 70s and early 80s. I must have started when I was 11 or 12, and continued until I was 16 or so. Mine was a spread-out, hilly round so the bike was essential. Walking the route took at least twice as long and would make me late for school. I had a morning round on weekdays and a double round on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes I'd fill in on the evening rounds after school when the other paperboys couldn't make it.

At the time, milk was also delivered to the door - another quaint but valuable service that has passed into obscurity. Indeed right up until the mid 80s when I learned to drive, our milk was delivered by horse and cart. I know this for a fact because the cart once dinged a car I was looking after for a mate.

I don't remember it ever being a great burden; even on cold winter mornings I'd be up and away before the rest of the family was awake. My overriding memory is of grinding up short but steep hills with a heavy bag over my shoulder, my breath visible in the crisp, early morning light. It's a happy memory. I especially liked Christmas, when my customers would come to the door to wish me the compliments of the season, and sometimes offer me a small tip. Perhaps I'm romanticising it, but I loved the independence that the paper round - and of course the modest income - gave me.

Indeed ten years later I was working full-time as a bicycle courier (which seems to be a "messenger" these days) in Glasgow, and wondering whether anything had really changed...

Concerns about child safety have undoubtedly contributed to the demise of the paperboy, but I reckon the major factor was the parallel demise of the local newsagent and general store where paperboys were based. Like many other varieties of local business, they've been squeezed into extinction by the supermarkets.

More recently, the newspaper business is also in decline. Fewer and fewer people buy and read physical newspapers. I don't even read a daily newspaper myself, I get all the news I need online.

It may be that the paperboy has been consigned to history, much like the chimney sweep, the shoeshine boy and the bus conductor.

Thanks for the post though, it's reminded me about an important part of my childhood. It's just a shame that there seems to be a no modern equivalent I can encourage my own kids to sign up for when they're old enough...

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfrasermillar

Frasermillar,
Thank you. Great story, very well told. I worked as a milkman in Nottingham, England in 1966, I drove an electric powered milk cart. The older guys at the dairy remembered the horse carts and said they were actually better because you could whistle and the horse would move up the street with the cart as you delivered the milk. Whereas, with the electric cart you had to walk back and move it up.
Dave

October 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Another former paper carrier here. My "career" lasted from around 1972 until 1975 when they started replacing the bicycle carriers with car carriers. I haven't seen a newspaper boy (or girl for that matter) since around 1977.

I wouldn't claim that my paper route led to an interest in bicycles, but it surely helped fund the addiction.

A side note on dairy deliveries...my great aunt lived in Racine, WI. Before my time she received her milk deliveries by horse drawn wagon. Quite often they would use a substitute driver on the route, no problem the horse knew the route. Try to teach that to a truck.

We have lost so many things that made us communities, all in the name of profits and progress.

Aaron

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

No paper route, but I worked for a flower shop delivering flowers when I was 12 to about 13 (in the early 80s). It was probably a better gig, since you sometimes got a tip.

Sadly, I hear even that is taken over by adults in cars nowdays. There really need to be some way for younger kids to make a couple of bucks. Not everyone has rich parents.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

My brother and I shared a route in Springfield, OH back in 1977. It was a 10 square block route with around sixty houses. We got delivery of the papers around 4:30ish and had all of them out by 6 a.m. There was a plethora of special requests for delivery of these papers anywhere from: paper placed between the screen door and front door, paper tri folded and under mat, paper in plastic bag on stoop, etc. Our tip depended on both time of delivery and meeting the special requests. I delivered the papers on my Murray BMX bike with a DX quad bolt gold anodized aluminum gooseneck that I bought from the money I earned on the route.
My wife was shocked to learn that I stopped delivery of our P&C because the delivery guy couldn't get the paper on my porch after several requests.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterspokejunky

I was riding my 30 lb Huffy along Foothill Drive in Vista CA, Times Advocate saddle bag slung over a ten pound iron rack, when a 50-ish man on his racing bicycle glided past me and up a short hill, a 12 year old boy forever affected.
It was then I told myself I would climb like that someday.
I did.
That man could never know the influence he had on someone in a fleeting moment, indelible in my memory.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Great topic, Dave.
Yes, another former paperboy here. I lived in a rural area within the San Francisco Bay Area. This was one of my first real jobs, I was 14 in 1973. My route required that I ride 2 miles into "town" to pick up the papers, fold them and ride another 4 or 5 miles to deliver them all. I was able to convince my parents I needed a "10 speed" bike to properly do the job and paid them back out of my paper route collections. There were hills to ride, dogs to avoid, customers who never paid and all kinds of weather to bear. This job taught you to deliver on your commitment, without excuses. Looking back , I have a lot of good memories, it was a good experience and was the beginning of some real cycling that continues to be a part of my life today.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

This is a great post, Dave. Back in the day: San Diego Evening Tribune, 1976-79. Hilly route (10%+ grades in spots). 60 customers. I used to time myself. I know that experience of youth explains an initial career path into deadline daily print journalism, and a lifelong cycling love for climbing, time trials and centuries (the route felt like a 100 miles back then, especially at 4:30 a.m. on Sundays).

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

I had one to two paper routes in the mid to late '80s. In the beginning I used the provided bag to carry around the papers, but I eventually graduated to a 10 speed with a rear rack for carrying around the papers. It was a good way to make some extra money. Collecting the money was the part that I never liked, because it was always a struggle to get some customers to pay. The tips were completely random, but getting a tip was always a great thing. I was riding around on a bicycle well before I got the paper route, so I'd say I've been cycling for most of my life.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterasmathews

Over the last two years, my paper has normally been delivered by kids in rural Ohio. They seldom if ever use a bicycle, choosing either to walk or have their parents chauffeur them by car.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGarrett

Interesting on the cross section of bikes used for paper delivery. I used the old Chicago built Schwinn Heavy Duty with Wald baskets front and rear. During the week the front basket alone was usually enough, except on Wednesdays when the grocery ads ran. Sundays it took front baskets, rear baskets and a shoulder bag on top of the rear baskets to get them all in, occasionally I would have to make a couple of trips. My route was fairly flat except for one loop that went down and back up, always ended up walking back up that one. IIRC my paper count was around 50-60, near the end I picked up a new apartment building that was good for another 25 papers or so, it was easy to deliver, take the shoulder bag and run the halls.

Our paper bundles were dropped at our houses (or another location if we chose). There were at least 5 carriers in my general area and we would substitute for each other, or at least help out if someone was on vacation.

Aaron

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

I delivered the now-defunct Oregon Journal here in Portland. It was an afternoon paper, so I did my route after school. This was in the late seventies. I grew up in a hilly neighborhood, so every day I suffered through my own private Tourmalet, lugging a 45 lb. Sting-Ray and 40+ newspapers over hill and dale.

That was my first real job, and the one I look back on with the most fondness. I loved riding my bike around delivering the papers, and took pride in toughing it out on the cold, wet and windy days that make much of the fall and winter seasons here. I had never heard of Sean Kelly, but I'm sure he would have been proud of me, a fellow "hardman", gritting it out when lesser paperboys would be hitting up their parents to drive them around their routes.

Probably most importantly, though, was that it showed me that a bicycle was more than a childhood toy; it was a transportation tool, as every bit as useful as a car. And, to a teenager without a car, it enabled me to go places I never would have otherwise.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I just found my carrier contract from 1978. I was a twelve year old peculiarity of history. My older brothers handed down the route to me and sold me the Schwinn coaster bike I would need to do the job. We were businessmen who signed the front of checks. I still have my newspaper carrier's handbook and it makes the presumption on every page that a bicycle will be used. On the handbook cover pictures of a boy and girl seemed a bit aspirational when we wanted to be in the fraternity of paperboy. I do remember my mom waking me up often and helping me fold and rubber band.

Once you break the glass ceiling of paperboys the rest will be cake. The girl looks like a plant however and I think I remember us boys making skeptical remarks about her sweeping bell bottoms and girl's bike.

Kids at school saw the circles under my eyes and said I was stoned but five hard miles of riding every morning gave me enough fitness to escape bullies.

I nor my brothers are President of the United States but we pulled down four figures, enough to buy dozens of bikes thus ensuring perpetuation of our fortune. Now we each commute by bike to five figure jobs. Today when one of us brothers buy a new or used bike there is a feeling like a new calf has been born in our herd.

I have had the local paper delivered for the past 20 years and it has always been a car with four doors and kids deployable as foot carriers. I have respect for their methodology because cars and gas are abundant. I don't know where kids come from.

If I had a paper carrier job today I would use a bike because that is how the job should be done, or a girl could be a paper carrier but she should do it on a boy's bike.

If the future's first woman President of the United States dodged her opportunity to be a paper carrier her achievement will be in debt.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkelly

Oh how I remember the sprints I rode, laden down with papers! One gent on my route would wait until I rounded the corner on my Schwinn Hollywood before he let his three full grown, blood thirsty St. Bernards loose. Perhaps Mark Cavendish visualizes his sprints in a similar manner? Where was MY lead-out man?

That bike, even before it was loaded down with newpapers, felt as though it weighed more than I did at 13 or 14 years of age. The job may not have built character (man, how I hated that phrase while growing up) but it sure built up my legs.

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim

My paper delivery "career" lasted just a few months in the mid-70s. I delivered the Daily Record in Randolph, New Jersey. At the time, I remember hardly anyone giving tips, so I eventually deemed it a waste of time. Maybe I didn't give a long enough shot.

One old woman on my route would stiff me every week - claiming I missed a few days delivery - plus no tip. She was actually costing me money, so I made the executive decision of removing her from my route. I yanked her card from my binder - where we kept track of customers, she was done. I still remember her looking through the window to watch me skip her apartment afterwards.

I claimed the route after an older neighborhood kid, Jim, "retired" from the business. He had a huge route that was broken up into smaller routes. It was actually a fairly easy gig, since most of the customers were in a large apartment complex. That's also why I rarely used my bike, it was actually quicker to walk. I remember the Sunday edition being too heavy for wimpy me - so I'd make separate smaller piles behind dumpsters and deliver a few at a time. One time, when I came back to my "dumpster distribution center", my official Daily Record paper bag was gone. Stolen! That was my last straw of the being in the paper business.

Even though I was a dud at this enterprise, I know of other kids that did pretty well - including Jim, the original owner of my route. My friend Todd had a large route, then combined with mowing lawns - earned enough dough for two new dirt motorcycles at the time. Not bad for a teenager.

Later, when I was in high school, my dad had a part-time route delivering larger bundles in the car. He'd pay my brother and I to put the Sunday edition together. This was in some small room in the Morristown train station, in Morristown, NJ. This part-time deal didn't last long, but for some reason, the memory of that room is stamped into my brain.

Kids delivering papers is a thing of past. They all seem to be delivered by adults now, by car, early in the morning - never to be seen. Mail the payment in and never meet the carrier.

Kids are missing something by not being able to experience this. There's some valuable lessons embedded in being a "paper boy".

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

Hi Dave,
I didn't read all of the comments here but I'm venturing to say that my paper boy experience is the most recent. After he left for college, I inherited my brother's Daily Record paper route within my neighborhood in New Jersey. I was 14 when I took on the responsibility and made most of the deliveries by bicycle from 1996 until 1999 when I passed the route on to a neighbor.

I don't know if I learned much while bearing that responsibility. If anything, I learned to take it easy while riding with a loaded bag in the snow.

Funny having two comments next to each other from the same region in NJ delivering the same local paper. Small world.
--Tim

October 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim

I had a same time when i left the college. I had work for four years.
I was used to get up early. I learned a lot and it was memorable experience.

October 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercables

I have recalled my memory when I used the cycle on paper round in my city. Great post keep it up!!!

Yep, I remember my time on a paper round. I was 15 in 1957, living in Cheshunt, England. It was two weeks before Christmas, and because my brother had got a puncture using my bike I had to walk to the newspaper shop and use the dreaded "trade' bicycle. It was made out of lead pipe going by the weight. It had the metal basket in front with the small wheel, and the newsagent sign on a metal panel in the frame. I could not even pull it on to the centre stand. Murder to steer, impossible in a side wind, and brakes in name only. I had a full load of papers in the front basket, plus a full bag over my shoulder. It was a Sunday morning and the roads were snow banked and icy, making even walking difficult. I started out and had no trouble till about halfway through the round. Taking a left hander on the council estate I was delivering at, I lost control on the turn and me ,bike, and papers slid down the steep road, through a hedge into a front garden. As I lay there wondering if I had broken 1-the bike, and 2-bones, I saw a pair of feet approach from my face in the snow view and take a paper from my basket and walk back in the house and close the door. I recovered and collected all my papers strewn down the road. Repacked my basket and bag. Dragged my bike bike back through the hedge and checked the address. Yep, no problem there. It was a customer I was delivering to anyway. I never said anything to the newsagent when I got back but I sure was bruised and aching for days afterward. Only later when he got famous did I realize I was the paper boy for Harry Webb. I never was sure who came out to collect the paper to this day.

October 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermike dimmock

A newspaper delivery boy here for the Pasadena Star News, an afternoon newspaper plus Sunday mornings, from about 1964-1966. I made $30 a month. I started out on my father's three speed vintage road bike with top tube shifter (wish I still had that) and got a five speed Schwinn Stingray due to the handlebars being perfect for the back plus the gears needed for the hills throughout my route. I enjoy climbing these days and your blog make me think my enjoyment of climbing went back to all those hills I climbed as a newsboy.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Brueggeman

Hi Dave, I am very late at reading this blog, but wanted to comment. I never had a paper route, (I do commute to work by bicycle) but my 14 year old son does his paper route by bicycle. He has always done it by bicycle, rain or shine, summer and winter, (We help him with the car for safety reasons when there is a blizzard). Just yesterday he delived by bicycle with 3" of fresh snow on the ground. So yes, there is at least one person who still delivers by bicycle.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Campau

This is a really cool blog...I delivered the Santa Maria Times in Santa Maria, CA back in 1985-1987. I inherited the largest route for a boy my age 11-13, by a co-worker (I won't share his name) who stole a soda out of somebody's garage fridge. I was training for half of this bad kid's route...and I ended up getting all 300 accounts. I had to make trips to deliver. Fully loaded bags, as fast as I could on my 20" BMX bike... Hauling Ass... 'Winging' papers to the porch from the sidewalk. Missing and sometimes hitting the small and furry domesticated family members. I got so damn good at making that porch. It was an obsession. This art form has to be desired by these kids. I still am fast today. I've never grown out of the BMX. I ride a 24" FA cruiser and my advantage is bunny hopping curbs. I think it might be illegal to ride like I do now. I just need a set of paper bags for my bike...

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob Cadam

Feb. 16, 2011
Hi, Dave.
   In 1946 I lived in Chipley, Fl (USA), a little town north of Panama City, and on what is now I-10.   I was 12 years old.
   Responding to an ad in a magazine I sent off for a batch of the old GRIT weekly paper, published in Williamsport, PA.
   It arrived by mail on a Friday, and since I lived in a rural area I picked it up at the post office after school and began to solicit customers on foot.
   This continued for about three months, with an ever-increasing number of papers arriving every Friday, and reaching the point that I could not, on foot, complete delivery to all my customers over the weekend.
   I went to the local Western Auto and made arrangements for a new bike for payment of a dollar a week.
   I continued to deliver the GRIT for a couple of years afterward, with customers in the rural areas and in town, numbering ultimately around 200.
   My family moved into town in the early 50s, and one of my friends had the route for the daily Panama City News-Herald.   As was mentioned in other comments, he took great pride in delivering his paper on time, and while riding by would toss it onto the front porch within six inches of the door.
   I last witnessed that a few days before I entered the armed forces in June, 1953.  I last saw a paper carrier on a bike in 1958.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames V Lewis

Delivered The L A Examiner in 1957 a morning route of about 80 customers.
In 1958 I delivered the LA Times and boy those Sunday papers were HEAVY.
Also about 80 customers on that route. 7 days a week and last paper thrown by 6 am.
Collected the subscription money every month. A big tip was 50 cents.
I made about $40 for a months delivery.
At Christmas a dollar was so nice for a tip.
I was 12 years old my first year.
Rain, Fog or freeze we got it done.
Paper office we had electric machines that tied the LA Times papers.
South Gate , Calif.
Winchells Donut Shop right before we set out to deliver every morning about 5 am.
Good memories for sure.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDennis

My five brothers and I carried the Oregon Journal in southeast Portland...rain, wind, hail, sleet, snow and a few sunny summer days, I'd deliver. Unlike today, we had to collect. Most people were good and gave great tips at Christmas time. But occasionally there was somebody who would stall in the payment or skip out on you. It was truly a learning experience for a ten year old. I carried papers for about 6 years - rain, wind, hail, sleet, snow and a few sunny days.

We would meet at the station and roll our papers and put them in the bags that hung over the handle bars. Then off I'd go. I had a rural route so a lot of the papers were put in a cylindrical metal tube about four-six inches in diameter and about 18 inches long. The tube had the "Oregon Journal" emblazoned in dark green over an deep orange background. I got to the point where I zip by at a pretty good clip and hit the target.

We were also encourage to sign up new subscriptions. We would often have sales meetings where we went door-to-door getting people to sign up. There were prizes...a trip to Disneyland (I went three times), a little black and white TV, transistor radios, a nice winter jacket, and lots of other things.

I learned a lot about people, business, and responsibility. It is such a shame that the "newspaper boy" has become extinct. There was so much gained from pedaling papers and weathering the rain, wind, hail, sleet, snow and a few sunny days.

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMerle
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