D.L. Stewart: When little boys were sent out to do a man’s job

Warren Buffett, Walt Disney, Martin Luther King Jr. and Joe Biden all got their start as paperboys.

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Warren Buffett, Walt Disney, Martin Luther King Jr. and Joe Biden all got their start as paperboys.

Based on a recent article in Parade magazine, among the many things I have in common with Warren Buffett, Walt Disney, Martin Luther King Jr. and Joe Biden is that our first jobs were as paperboys.

For younger readers who may be unfamiliar with the word, paperboys once were an army of children recruited by newspaper publishers to deliver their products directly to the homes of their customers.

No, younger readers, delivering products to the homes of customers was not invented by Amazon. Dairy products once were delivered to our homes by milkmen. Blocks of ice were deposited by icemen directly into the wooden iceboxes of kitchens that had not yet upgraded to Frigidaires. Each autumn, large trucks came to our homes, attached chutes to basement windows and sent chunks of coal rumbling down into storage bins to fuel the furnaces that heated our rooms.

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And little boys lugged heavy bundles of newspapers in canvas bags from door to door.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, to coin a phrase, stayed these underaged couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. Not to mention irate customers and snarling dogs.

In exchange for their efforts, the newspapers paid their employees, literally, pennies.

The Cleveland News I delivered six days a week cost seven cents. When I collected the money each Saturday, that came to 42 cents per customer, of which I got to keep 12 pennies. Although some customers rounded it up to 45 cents, so I wound up with 15 pennies.

But people back then weren’t all that concerned about minimum wages, child labor laws or things like that. Most child-raising authorities agreed that sending little boys out to work would instill in them a sense of responsibility, teach them the value of work and lay the foundation for sound business practices. Apparently Warren Buffett absorbed a lot more of those lessons than I did.

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The years I spent as a paperboy were not without their rewards, though. One year, I received a certificate of appreciation for trudging through a blizzard that produced knee-high snowfalls; which were waist-high for an 8-year-old. Two years later, I signed up enough new subscribers to earn a trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park.

Some day I may gather my grandchildren around my rocking chair and tell them all about how grandpa had to trudge through the snow every afternoon to deliver his newspapers. And at some point, I’m sure, one of them will look at me with wonder in his or her eyes and ask: “Grandpa, what’s a newspaper?”


Contact this columnist at dlstew_2000@yahoo.com.

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