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The First American Newspaper To Utilize Newsboys

While it is true that Ben Day's New York Sun was the first successful penny paper in the city, Day was not actually the first to have his paper hawked by newsboys on the streets of New York. That honor belongs to none other than Horace Greeley who, in an unlikely partnership with a recent medical school graduate named Horace David Sheppard, anticipated Day by some eight months. Here's how it went:

Sheppard, although trained as a physician, dreamed of becoming a newspaper publisher and sometime in 1831, having seen that boys peddling spice cakes on the streets of New York for a penny each quickly sold out, he became convinced that a daily newspaper hawked at that price could do just as well. Most of the papers in the city at that time were commercial journals catering mainly to middle-class and business interests. They were also quite dull and cost six cents a copy -- a price few ordinary working people could afford. By contrast, Sheppard's paper would be fresh and lively and, at only a penny per copy, should greatly appeal to the masses.

All well and good, but with no real editorial experience and very limited resources, Sheppard found it difficult to put his idea into practice. As a last resort, he approached the young Horace Greeley who, with a partner, was then operating a small print shop. Greeley, even then cautious by nature, hesitated at first but later agreed to the venture. He insisted, however, that they charge two cents for the paper.

The new paper, called the New York Morning Post, hit the streets on New Year's Day in 1833. Unfortunately, so did a severe snowstorm and the paper's luckless newsboys could find few buyers. With the snow piled on the streets for days afterward, things failed to improve significantly. The fact that Sheppard was quite inept as an editor, and the paper thus had little other than price to recommend it, also did not help. Neither did dropping the price of the paper to a penny after a disastrous first week.

Circulation never managed to climb higher than a few hundred and after two and a half weeks the New York Morning Post was dead. It did not live its very short life in vain, however, for if nothing else, it spawned the concept of using newsboys to sell papers on the street. An idea the Sun so successfully put into practice only eight months later.