17 April 2023

The Story Behind Why Newsies Go On Strike

The Newsies Broadway smash hit has crossed the pond and is now playing at the Troubadour Wembley Park in London. Based on the true story of New York newsboys who went on strike to demand fairer pay, Disney Newsies is an expertly choreographed, action-packed, family musical that transports audiences back to the turn of the 20th century. But why exactly did the ‘newsies’ strike and what propelled them into taking such extreme action?

Newsboys’ Strike of 1899

There’s something particularly exciting about live theatre that’s based on real historic events - and that’s exactly what Newsies offers. The show shines a light on the newsboys’ strike of 1899 which saw a small, unofficial union spark a huge citywide movement. Let’s unravel the story.

Over 100 years ago, newspaper sellers would buy papers from a publisher each day at a set price. They’d make their money back by upselling the papers to consumers eager for all the latest facts, gossip and hearsay. For a long time, most newspaper publishers charged the ‘newsies’ as they were known, 50 cents for 100 papers.

As the Spanish-American war broke out, however, publishers such as Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal upped their prices to 60 cents per 100 papers.This is because more and more people were buying papers, eager for the latest conflict updates. While the newsies accepted this at first, as they could still make a profit due to increased demand, they became upset when Pulitzer and other publishers did not drop their prices post-war.

Publisher greed led to a significant youth-led strike. It lasted for two weeks in July of 1899 and seriously hit the pocket of Pulitzer and Randolph’s Hearst’s publishing empires. Sales of the New York World and the New York Journal plummeted, with a rally of more than 7,000 newsies across all five New York City boroughs drawing the attention of many influential figures including local politicians and businessmen. Although the price of the papers was not lowered, the strike was successful in forcing the World and Journal to offer full buybacks to their sellers.

Following one of the largest child protests of all time, the newsboys’ union continued under an adult president who advocated wearing union badges and affiliating with other labour organisations.

Similarities to Disney’s Newsies

Newsies Broadway musical, now in London, plays around with the sequence of strike events but it mostly depicts what happened with accuracy. The musical focuses heavily on Joseph Pulitzer rather than William Randolph Hearst - although his name is dropped several times. While most Newsies characters aren’t a direct representation of real-life people, Jack Kelly is based on Kid Blink, the leader of the 1899 striking newsboys.

Book your tickets to see Newsies today and enjoy a fun-filled adventure with the family.

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