July 24, 1899: “Messenger Boys Join the Army of Strikers.”

Messenger Boys Join the Army of Strikers.

An Attempt Made This Morning to Cripple the Postal Telegraph Service.

The List of Grievances.

Brooklyn Boys Have So Far Made No Decision—The Newsboys’ Strike.

Some of the messenger boys in Manhattan have carried out their threat and gone on a strike. The office immediately affected is that of the Postal Telegraph, at 20 Broad street. There are forty-five boys at this place and they have practically all quit work. They stand around in groups at Wall street, New street, Broad street and Exchange place and it goes hard with the boy who appears in a Postal Telegraph uniform. Some of the boys who reported for work at the usual hour, clad in uniform, changed their minds this morning after having run the gauntlet of the strikers.

Several of the American District Telegraph boys who carry messages from the office of the Postal Telegraph office on Montague street were talked to by an Eagle reporter this morning and though they were disposed to be diplomatic in their replies to questions it was apparent that they are by no means satisfied with the terms of their employment and that the strike of the Manhattan boys may extend to this borough. One of the officials of the company at the Montague street office said that he knew nothing of any serious dissatisfaction and pointed to a group of boys who were matching pennies in an adjoining room as proof of his contention that there would be no strike on this side of the river, but his impression did not tally with that of the boys who were interviewed on the question.

One of the boys was stopped on the corner of Montague and Court streets and asked if there was going to be a strike. He replied with much caution in his tone and manner:

“I don’t know; that is, I ain’t certain.”

“Have you talked with any of the company officials about it?”

“Yes, sir; our committee has seen Mr. Kilburn, the superintendent, and he is considering our grievances. We have been told that if we want to strike, we can strike, and get out and stay out.”

“Well, do you think you will strike, as a matter of fact?”

“I dunno; that depends upon what the New York boys say. If they want any help, and come over here and call us out, why, of course, we’ve got to quit to support ’em; but I ain’t certain about what we will do.”

“What will you strike for?”

“For a raise from $3.50—what we get now— to $4 a week, and pay for over time. They make us pay $13 for a uniform, and $1 for a hat, and $2.50 for rubber boots, and $2 for a rubber coat. We don’t get anything till we pay for it, and they take it out of our pay, $1 a week at a time. The first week we go to work they pay only $1 for a whole week, and sometimes not as much as that. I only made 65 cents my first week.”

Manager S. E. Ostrom, who has charge of the Postal Telegraph boys at 20 Broad street, the Stock Exchange, 41 Wall street, 6 Wall street, 96 Broadway and 47 Exchange place, said this morning that he had twelve to sixteen boys at work and would be ready for business when the exchanges opened. He admitted that he was crippled this morning and that the boys had gone out. The boys declare that there are no boys at work at 20 Broad street.

The strike seemed to have a marked effect upon stock transactions up to noon. At 1 o’clock the sales reached 110,000 shares, which was pronounced the dullest day of the year. Sales at that hour usually aggregate 300,000 shares.

The boys demand that they be paid a flat rate of 2½ cents for each message; that returned messages which they are unable to deliver shall be paid for the same as delivered messages; that is, that the boys shall not carry the message for nothing just because the person addressed could not be found; that the sum of 50 cents a week now leveled on each boy for clothing shall cease and that the boys be permitted to buy their own clothing.

As far as could be learned none of the American District Telegraph boys in Manhattan had gone out this morning. The principal office of the American District Telegraph is at 4 Exchange place, and is under the management of J. T. Banks. Mr. Banks said that there was no strike at that place and he did not anticipate any. He pointed to a room in which there were 125 boys waiting. He said that he had canvassed the boys and none of them had any grievances. He was very bitter against two newspapers who, he said, were responsible for the agitation. “Those papers did not mention the strike against them and they cannot expect the Telegraph Company to tell its business.”

A crowd of fifteen striking boys of the Postal Company attacked a small boy who had just gone to work this morning, at Exchange place and William street. The boy had formerly been in the employ of the company, and when he returned this morning was only provided with a pair of trousers in the way of uniform. These betrayed him to the strikers. They knocked him about, threw him down and took away his book. The receipt blank and telegram which it contained they tore in pieces and he was then allowed to go.

At the Postal Telegraph Company’s office, at 17 and 19 William street, nineteen boys are employed. The young man in charge of the office said that all of the nineteen are out. when he was asked for an explanation of the boys’ grievances he said that the boys received $4.50 a week, but “that they wanted to be stockholders.”

Superintendent Michael Rayner of the American District Telegraph Company, who is in charge of the messenger service, said at a few minutes before noon that the boys in the service of the company are to sensible to go on a strike, and that they have no grievance.

At about noon to-day a crowd of about 300 newsboys who had gathered in the neighborhood of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth street and Third avenue made a sudden attack upon about a dozen men who were selling Evening Worlds at that corner. The boys had understood that these men were receiving $2 a day and were furnished the papers at 40 cents a hundred. In less than a minutes time a dozen or more of these men had been robbed of their papers and were hustled all about the street. some of the men were used very roughly and they ran for their lives. They took refuge on street cars and on the elevated station and in less than two minutes the thousand or more papers which they had in their possession were torn to pieces and scattered about the streets in the neighborhood, which were literally covered by the particles.

Having completed their work of destruction the crowd of newsboys then went west through One Hundred and Twenty-fifth street to Eighth avenue, heir numbers being augmented as they passed along until when they reached Eighth avenue the crowd had increased to full five hundred. On the way along One Hundred and Twenty-fifth street the mob stopped in front of the Harlem offices of the World and Journal and indulged in hoots and howls of drelsion [sic], but committed no overt act.

On their arrival at Eighth avenue and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth street the mob found six men engaged in selling the World at that corner. In an instant these men were surrounded, their bundles of papers torn from them and scattered about the street. The men themselves were assaulted.

Source: “Messenger Boys Join the Army of Strikers.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 July 1899, p. 2.