When Boys, Not Phones, Delivered the News

From a Wall Street Journal story by Bob Greene headlined “When Boys, Not Phones, Delivered the News”:

I’m no stamp collector, but there is a 3-cent first class stamp, issued in 1952, that I keep in a frame on a bookshelf. The Post Office Department authorized the stamp to honor what the nation considered an essential job.

The rectangular stamp, light purple in color, depicts houses in a typical small town. Against that backdrop is an illustration of a boy with a canvas bag slung over one shoulder. The stamp’s inscription reads: “In recognition of the important service rendered their communities and their nation by America’s newspaperboys.”

I look at that stamp every time there is another news story about the declining circulation of print papers, even as digital circulation grows. Newspaperboys (and girls) were a vital part of the American landscape in the decades before the internet and cable news delivered up-to-the-second bulletins onto people’s screens. Today, print papers mostly are delivered by adults in cars. But that purple stamp celebrated the era when the speediest way of getting news to front doors was a boy on a bike.

How ingrained in the nation’s life was that boy? One proud former newspaperboy—Dwight D. Eisenhower—issued a statement from the White House in 1954 honoring the carriers “not only because they serve our daily family needs, but because they symbolize so many cherished American ideals

When Eisenhower mentioned “daily family needs,” he wasn’t being hyperbolic. In 1950 the penetration of American households by newspapers—a statistic measuring in how many homes a newspaper was read each day—was just above 120%. How could the number exceed 100%? Many homes subscribed to two papers—a morning and an evening one.

Part of newspaperboys’ regular duties was to collect by hand, each week or each month, the subscription fees from every home on their route. During World War II, they raised money for the nation’s defense by selling War Bonds and War Stamps as they made their rounds. In appreciation, the U.S. Treasury commissioned a poster featuring a G.I. in combat gear shaking the hand of a newspaperboy. “Thanks Buddy!” the poster proclaimed. “Newspaper Boys have sold over 1¼ billion war savings stamps since Pearl Harbor.”

Some states bestowed annual awards on delivery boys or girls for exemplary work. In Ohio the award was considered so prestigious that it was presented by either the governor or the chief justice of the state supreme court. In 1954 the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune explained to its readers that “the newspaperboy completes the job started by the reporter in far-off Asia . . . the photographer in Africa . . . the correspondent in Alaska. . . . But the job is a long way from being finished until the newspaper is in your home.”

For some of us who love this business, there is still no sweeter sound than the solid thump of a rolled-up paper hitting the front stoop. The future may be digital, but to that hardworking newspaperboy on the 3-cent stamp, with gratitude and respect across all the years: Here’s to you.

Bob Greene’s books include “Late Edition: A Love Story.”

Speak Your Mind