Newsies is based on the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899. The New York newsies – boys and girls who sold newspapers on the street – went up against two newspaper publishers, Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal, to fight for the chance to earn a livable wage.
The Spanish-American War made New Yorkers hungry for headlines, and circulation boomed as a result. Once the war ended, people were less inclined to buy newspapers – war was bad for the world, but great for the newspaper business. The strike was the result of the newspaper publishers refusing to lower the newsies’ cost-per-paper back down to the pre-war prices. The newsies were not willing to pay more for their papers to make up for a lack of headlines, so they decided to strike – their goal was to make the newspaper tycoons treat them as legitimate members of the business.
The strike lasted two weeks, from July 20 to August 2, 1899. The newsies eventually came to a compromise with the publishers: The price would stay the same, but the publishers would buy back any papers that the newsies couldn’t sell. The newsies’ strike is a significant moment in history: It is one of the first strikes that was carried out by children and it ended in compromise. The kids succeeded!