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« Classic Rendezvous Weekend | Main | Monday Musings »

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 a great many 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. 


Footnote: I would like to thank all those who contributed their personal stories in the comments section below. It adds a great deal to the original piece. Dave

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Reader Comments (16)

Former newspaper boy and journalist here.The newspaper boy went away when the afternoon newspaper went away - nearly all papers are morning now and deliveries need to be in the pre-dawn hours. But those after-school deliveries were my first bike training efforts - six days a week with lots of cornering, and the reward that the last sprint home was fast because the newspaper bag was empty!

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Paperboys & girls are still very much around in the UK. I had a couple of rounds myself, one before school delivering paid for morning newspapers, and another after school once a week, delivering a free local newspaper. Throwing of papers from the bike was not allowed in the UK. We had to walk them up to the doors and post them through letterboxes. Our urban geography is much different.

There was also a great arcade game in the 80's called Paperboy. I'm not sure how popular that was in the US.

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I grew up in a very small farming town in NW Iowa, Fonda, 1000 population. I had an afternoon route delivering the Sioux City Journal to about 25 homes and a few businesses up town on “Main Street”. A few of my buddies delivered the Des Moines Register and The Des Moines Tribune and they did that in the very early morning hours. I didn’t throw the paper, we had to get off our bikes and walk up and put them in between the storm door and inside door. Saturday was collection day, we had to go door to door collecting the money for the week of papers that were delivered and then when you got home you sent the Newspaper Company their cut and you kept the rest. I also delivered the Sunday paper, it was an early morning thing, I would go to the post office loading dock to pick up these huge Sunday papers and put them in my big panier style wire baskets that hung over my rear wheel. I would have to return to the post office 2 or 3 times to reload because the all the papers wouldn’t fit. I also had a lot more to deliver on Sunday because more people took the Sunday paper more than the daily. In the winter, our streets had hard packed snow on them all winter, no salt on the roads back then, not sure if they use salt on the streets there these days or not, doubt it, so we walked most of the winter delivering the paper. On Sundays in the winter my Dad would drive me on my route and then he would take me to the little café at the end of Main Street for breakfast, it was usually still dark when we were eating breakfast, I believe having breakfast at the end of the Sunday morning route was the main reason my Dad didn’t mind. Great memories.

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSam Adams

Last year, while training for a long ride, I was riding down La Canada Road in Woodside about 4:00 am. I watched an obviously very drunk driver weaving all over the road before I realized it was really a paper delivery person. Today it seems that the motor vehicle has COMPLETELY replaced the bicycle as a paper delivery vehicle.

I delivered both morning and evening papers for years and it was OK except for collecting. Then people seemed to never be home or simply not to have any money available - and the bill was only $2.

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

I had 2 paper routes in the Chicago Suburbs, 1961-1965.

Chicago Tribune, & Sun Times & West Cook County Press. I did it on my Schwinn Spitfire with a huge basket in front. I was pretty good at throwing the papers most of the time, sometimes they went in the bushes once in a while on the roof. It was fun. My dad had to help me with the Chicago Sunday papers because they were so big. I agree with James that the hardest part was collecting. People would try to stiff a paperboy and the bill for the month was a couple bucks. At Christmas some peopl;e were very generous and I was quite wealthy by kid standards.

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Joshel

Also a former delivery boy, reporter, photographer and eventually college journalism instructor. Although I didn't have my own route - my father worked for the newspaper and my mother thought it would look bad if I had my own route. So I subbed for a friend who was frequently away (child violin prodigy).

As noted, we then had both morning and afternoon papers, so this could be accomplished after school. No Sunday paper, so Saturday was a long, slow deliver & collect day. Always delivered to a "dry" place. I once got knocked down by a huge Newfoundland dog that put one paw on each shoulder and then licked my face :-)

My "real" part-time job was at the local hardware store (Canadian Tire, a major Canadian chain still going strong) where from age 15, I worked Thurs & Fri nights and all day Sat during the school year, plus six days a week in my summer "vacation". I put a lot of bicycles together over those years. I got a discount on parts, so I would fix up my hand-me-down girl's 28" wheel (a unique CDN size, IIRC) bike. Even tried building wheels (not perfect, but rideable with coaster brake :-) Oh, the shame of riding a "girl's" bike.

I eventually saved enough to buy (on "layaway") a Raleigh chopper. Yellow, SA 3-spd, hi-rise bars, metal flake gold banana seat, sissy bar - I was stylin'!

It's not just newspaper delivery that has gone away, but newspapers in general. We just lost The Independent in the UK (now online only) and many more have shut or consolidated in the US. BTW, if you get a chance to see this year's Oscar-winner Spotlight - it's centred on the Boston Globe's investigative journalism team and is excellent. The director, Tom McCarthy, played an editor in The Wire.

And if you haven't watched The Wire (one whole season deals with the decline of newspapers) then go get the box set, order some non-perishables and beer and lock the front door.

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteveP

I filled in for a friend of mine, always around Christmas (in Detroit, snow up to your a$$), and it was the Free Press (4am paper drop).
I didn't really enjoy it, but the satisfaction of getting a hard job done was a good feeling.
I now live a rural area so delivery is by car.
Another passing era.

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteredstainless

Escondido Times Advocate.
Thirteen, fourteen years old, pedaling my Huffy 10-speed with strap-iron newspaper rack, cloth newspaper bag slung over, (I had to keep my pedaling smooth or the rolled papers would be launched by the rear wheel when swinging bags hit into it, in spite of being tied to the rack).
The generator light was for Sunday morning deliveries. I stopped daily at a house to talk with an older (must have been my current age) lady about all kinds of things, and to collect bubble gum.
One indelible memory of a gentleman riding by me on his racing bike, effortlessly gliding up a hill, now marks the start of serious cycling: I wanted to ride hills like that. He didn't look back, never to know the influence he had...

So, I learned how to climb, and maybe learned a few things that aren’t taught in school. But I don’t think those lessons are missed by people, because today, one would have to quantify, qualify and verify each and every one. That can’t be done.

But, still, they are missing.

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I was a paperboy for a few years, ages about 12-13 or so, back in the early 80s. At that time I was aware that some adults with cars were starting to run larger routes, but I had I believe fewer than 100 homes. I think nowadays adults with cars do the vast majority of paper delivery, I see them out there sometimes when I'm riding to work.

It was great experience in responsibility and diligence, and a good way to provide a little cash for a family that wasn't doing too well financially back then, plus save up some for stuff like a commodore 64 and learn to program. Also, I tell you what, I learned to patch inner tubes!!

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

I used to deliver the ABC advertiser around Sheldon but I did it on foot and with my mum's shopping trolley, there were loads of them and they weighed a ton. However related to your last post, while not delivering papers I rode my raleigh chopper into the back of a parked car whilst looking at the beautiful shiny moving epicycloid reflected from the chrome of the wheel rim. I only got into cycling any distance by talking to Pete Coulson while at work; I'm still a lightweight.

June 1, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

I had a paper route from 6th grade until I graduated from high school, back in the mid-late '70s, delivering the Meriden Record and Meriden Journal. First it was an afternoon route, then I switched to a morning paper by the same publisher. I was getting up at 4AM to deliver to 65 customers, 6 days a week. Took me about 45 minutes on foot.

With the afternoon route, I was able to pick up the papers directly from the press. I hung the bag around my "playboy bike" handlebars. Once I made the mistake of leaving the bike unattended while I went inside to pick up the papers, and the bike was stolen. Sigh.

The morning route was a walking route. Year 'round, through Connecticut winters, too. I learned to fold the paper in such a manner that I could throw a "scaler" and it wouldn't open in mid-air! Out of those 65 customers, only one person didn't like the paper because of those folds so I had to put it between their storm door and front door. Otherwise, I would fold the papers as I walked. My accuracy was so good; I never missed a shot and if I did, I retrieved it and placed it properly. I could throw them so they wouldn't slam on the porch or hit the storm door and make a racket in the early morning hours.

When it rained, I would pick the paper from the inside, then the outside of the bag, so never would a paper sit so long in my bag as to get wet prior a customer receiving their newspaper. I would also place their paper inside on rainy days to assure them of a quality, dry delivery.

I would collect many times a week from my customers as that was the only income I had. I would cut off service after 3 weeks of non-payment, but can't recall every having a problem with non-paying customers. I once had a customer apologize for not paying, give me a $20 tip (back in the '70s) and 3 joints from plants he grew in his ironing board closet! Oh, the stories I could tell...

It was while collecting that I usually rode my bike. The first round was on foot as there were so many stops. Then on subsequent rounds, the bike was more efficient.

The money I earned paid for my school clothes, school supplies, and of course, my nascent interest in cycling! While my parents bought me my first 10 speed at the age of 14, I bought all my bikes and parts after that.

I attribute my paper route to giving me my base fitness as a youth.

I think having a paper route taught me a lot more about life and hard work than I realize.

June 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter W. Polack

They are still alive and well here in Denmark, although generally delivering local 'Free Newspapers' and advertising fliers rather than conventional newspapers. The usual weapon of choice, given the size and weight of the load, is either a small trailer towed behind the bicycle or a cargo bike and you see them around town every day.

June 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Hobbs

I delivered newspapers for a lot of years, as did all my brothers. I earned some pocket money, and learned responsibility -- and also learned how to ride on the roads with traffic. I think that people who don't get accustomed to riding on roads as kids have a much harder time getting comfortable riding among cars when they're older. I delivered on my bike in all kinds of weather, and only stopped riding when the roads were completely covered in snow -- then I pulled the newspapers on my sled. My route was an afternoon route 5 days a week, but in the early morning on weekends. The only newspapers that I know of that still have kids delivering them are the free local papers that are delivered once a week and survive entirely on advertising revenue.

One thing I've noticed is that in our current Wal-Mart economy, almost all newspaper deliveries are done by adults who are trying to make ends meet -- it's a job they can do early in the morning that doesn't interfere with a second (or third) job.

June 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKyle Brooks

I delivered newspapers from age 10 to 15, in a hilly area in Southern California. My first bike was a second (perhaps third) hand Schwinn coaster brake single speed. With the paper bags slung from the handlebars, I pushed a lot uphill, and poor braking was a problem on downhill. After several months, and saving my earnings, I was able to graduate to an Indian brand 3 speed. My father did not trust cable brakes but fortunately the coaster brake model also included a front brake. The bike shop owner knew where I lived & what I was doing so he wisely changed the rear sprocket to a larger one from stock. This was about 1961.

The route was an excellent life lesson in responsibility and running my own small business. As others have mentioned, collections could be a problem but it soon became obvious who the problem customers were. Persistence was key.

Because the route covered homes built up several ridgelines and into canyons, as a child my friends & I had developed a series of trails to walk to one anothers homes. These became convenient shortcuts for my paper delivery efforts. Bombing along these steep, single track trails on a heavy steel bike with a load of papers was a lot of fun & no doubt developed my bike handling skills.

I kept the paper route until an age when I could get a better paying job. Having to be somewhere 6 days a week doing something with a deadline no doubt was a life lesson learned at an early age that stuck with me.

My earnings allowed me to buy a "10 speed" in 1963, the first bike boom since the war. Despite the lighter weight, wider gearing and superior braking, it was utterly unsuitable for loaded deliver work. Hence, it became the fun bike & the venerable 3 speed remained the work horse. The 3 speed accompanied my to college in the late 60s. Theft of 10 speeds was rampant, but my dull black 3 speed spent 4 years our of doors, unlocked, and was perfectly serviceable, if a bit rusty, when I graduated & gave to someone needing a bike.

June 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdoug peterson

Had a route for a few years and loved it. We had bags like the one it the pic to carry the newspapers but instead of wearing them, we'd wrap the straps used to tighten it around our handlebars thus transferring the load to the bike. I'd ride up to the corner where a big wooden box held the newspapers. It folded open and I'd stand in the box using the top as a shelf to fold them and stuff them in the bag. I too got good at folding them so I could throw them from the bike...though I did have some ink marks around door frames and a couple that went on the roof. Sundays with the shopping inserts (pre computer spam) were hopeless so I'd just roll them up.

Getting the paper delivered in all kinds of weather, the responsibility, independence, making your own money were good things for a kid.

June 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

The Sacramento Union was a morning paper in the 50's and delivering it was my first job from ages 11 to 14.. It affected my life in many ways. I still love biking and ride the flats and hills around Davis, CA every week. Great memories of the quiet early morning hours before school. Sunday morning was always the biggest paper and I also used the over the shoulder bags.
On the very rainy mornings my dad would drive me around.
The route taught me how to be my own boss and keep records.
The most difficult parts were door to door collecting and delivering the Wednesday shopper to every house. Some Wednesdays, if I was running late, I would dump the shoppers in a grocery store incenerator.
. This was before the security camera and no one ever complained about not getting the free shopper.

June 25, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbarry
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