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October 6, 2016

45 Amazing Vintage Photographs of Bicycle Messenger Boys Across America from the Early 20th Century

The little bicycle messengers of yesterday who were part of two million child laborers working in American industry in the early 20th century.

Photojournalist Lewis Hine played an integral role in the creation of child labor laws in America. Hine took a post with the National Child Labor Committee in 1908 and spent the next ten years documenting child laborers and their working conditions around America. Though real child labor reform didn’t come about until 1938, Hine’s photos nonetheless helped show America the destitute, exploitative conditions in which young children were forced to work.

As it turns out, Hines came across a lot of young bike messengers in the course of his work. As a by-product of his work for the NCLC, Hine created an amazing record of early American bike messengers and some of them, like the one of the aforementioned bad ass, are really great. Here are some of his fantastic photographs:

Luther Wharton, drug store delivery boy, twelve years old. Works from 4:00 P.M. to midnight in Sommers Drug Store. I saw him working at midnight. He goes to school in the daytime, then works from four to twelve. Sundays half a day. Gets $5.00 a week. "I take medicines to the Red Light places several times a day. Yes I know some of the people there." This is a pretty heavy burden, both physical and moral, to place on this adolescent boy. Location: San Antonio, Texas.

Howard Williams, thirteen year old delivery boy for Shreveport, La. Drug Company. He works from 9:30 A.M. to 10:30 P.M.; has been here three months. Goes to the Red Light every day and night. Says that the company could not keep other messenger boys; they work them so hard. Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.

Percy Neville, eleven year old messenger boy. Messenger boy #6 for Mackay Telegraph Company. He has been messenger for different companies for four years. Goes to the Reservation every day. Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.

Fourteen year old messenger #2 Western Union, Shreveport. Says he goes to the Red Light district all the time. Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.

The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5 is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy. He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. Location: Danville, Virginia.

Postal Telegraph boy, Danville, Va. That night he refused to show me through the Red Light District, said the manager did not permit them to go on such errands. A Western Union boy (tallest boy in photo 2182) eagerly took me around and revealed an appalling intimate acquaintance with the district and the inmates. Location: Danville, Virginia.

Curtin Hines. Western Union messenger #36. Fourteen years old. Goes to school. Works from four to eight P.M. Been with Western Union for six months, one month delivering for a drug store. "I learned a lot about the 'Reservation' while I was at the drug store and I go there some times now." Location: Houston, Texas.

Fifteen year old delivery boy for Linders Drug Store, which is located on the edge of the Reservation, Griffin Street. The boy has just returned from a trip to these Houses. He works from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. Location: Dallas, Texas.

A typical messenger boy in New Orleans. The telegraph companies are trying to obey the law, and few violations occur. Location: New Orleans, Louisiana.

Willie Roberts 11 year old delivery boy in Reiss Department Store. Location: Mobile, Alabama.

A. D. T. Messenger Boy, Indianapolis, 10 P.M. Location: Indianapolis, Indiana.

A. D. T. Messengers, Indianapolis. Aug., 1908. Location: Indianapolis, Indiana.

Wilbur H. Woodward, 428 Third St., N.W., Washington, D.C., Western Union messenger 236, one of the youngsters on the border-line, (15 yrs. old) works until 8 P.M. only. Location: Washington (D.C.), District of Columbia.

Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company. Said fifteen years old. Exposed to Red Light dangers. Location: Waco, Texas.

Package boy. Location: Montgomery, Alabama.

Messenger boys. Work until 11 P.M. Location: New Haven, Connecticut.

George Christopher, Postal Tel. #7, 14 years old. Been at it over 3 years. Does not work nights. Location: Nashville, Alabama [i.e., Tennessee?]

Selling during school hours, 10:30 A.M. Location: Syracuse, New York (State)

Postal Telegraph messenger. Location: Birmingham, Alabama.

Wilbur Bold, Western Union Messenger No. 14, twelve years old, works until 11 P.M. usually, but all night when they are busy. Location: Tampa, Florida.

Leo Day, Postal Telegraph Messenger, 12 years old, and a very knowing lad. Location: Tampa, Florida.

Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory, working for the Dime Messenger Service. They said they never knew when they were going to get home at night. Usually work one or more nights a week, and have worked until after midnight. They said last Christmas their office had a 9 yr. old boy running errands for them, and that he made a great deal of money from tips. They make about $7 a week and more, sometimes. Said "The office is not allowed to send us into the red light district but we go when a call sends us. Not very often." Location: Washington (D.C.), District of Columbia.

The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5, is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy. He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. Location: Danville, Virginia.

Hodges Gallop, Western Union Messenger No. 16, Norfolk, Va. Lives, 201 Freeman Street. Been working here one month. He, and several other very young boys, work until 10:30 P.M. Location: Norfolk, Virginia.

Hodges Gallop, Western Union Messenger No. 16, Norfolk, Va. Lives, 201 Freeman Street. Been working here one month. He, and several other very young boys, work until 10:30 P.M. Location: Norfolk, Virginia.

A typical group of Postal Messengers in Norfolk, Va. Smallest on left end, Wilmore Johnson, been there one year. Works days only. The Postal boys are not nearly so young, in Norfolk and also in other Virginia cities, as are the Western Union boys. Location: Norfolk, Virginia.

Group of Western Union Messengers in Norfolk, Va. See also photo 2232, 2258, and report on Va. messengers. Location: Norfolk, Virginia.

Raymond Bykes, Western Union No. 23, Norfolk Va. Said he was fourteen years old. Works until after one A.M. every night. He is precocious and not a little "tough." Has been here at this office for only three months, but he already knows the Red Light District thoroughly and goes there constantly. He told me he often sleeps down at the Bay Line boat docks all night. Several times I saw his mother hanging around the office, but she seemed more concerned about getting his pay envelope than anything else. Location: Norfolk, Virginia.

Young messenger in New Bedford. Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Twelve year old messenger #7. Edison Green. Works on day shift now. "I got acquainted with the Red Light people over in Oklahoma City where I was messenger for three years, but I carry messages out to them here." Location: Houston, Texas.

Eleven year old Western Union messenger #51. J.T. Marshall. Been day boy here for five months. Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls. Location: Houston, Texas. D

Jeff Miller. A young delivery boy for Magnolia Pharmacy. This is especially bad for him as he has recently returned from the Seabrook Reform School where he had spent a year. He would not tell me why he was sent there. Location: Houston, Texas.

Marion Davis, Messenger #21 for Bellevue Messenger Service. Fourteen years old. "Been messenger, off and on, for two years. Not supposed to go to the Reservation under sixteen years, but I do just the same. The boss don't care and the cops don't stop me." Location: Houston, Texas.

Isaac Boyett, "I'm de whole show." The twelve year old proprietor, manager and messenger of the Club Messenger Service, 402 Austin Street, Waco Tex. The photo shows him in the heart of the Red Light District where he was delivering messages as he does several times a day. Said he knows the houses and some of the inmates. Has been doing this for one year, working until 9:30 P.M. on Saturdays. Not so late on other nights. Makes from six to ten dollars a week. Location: Waco, Texas.

A typical Birmingham messenger. Location: Birmingham, Alabama.

Extremes meet. One of the youngest and one of the older messenger boys in Mobile. The small boy is Emmet Brewster, Postal messenger #3. 11 years old; been working there 7 months. Makes $10 to $15 a month. Finished the third grade in school. I saw him carrying messages late at night. Location: Mobile, Alabama.

A 12 year old delivery boy for a Montgomery laundry. Makes $1.50 a week. Location: Montgomery, Alabama.

Boy learning printer's trade. Location: Montgomery, Alabama.

A 10 year old delivery boy for a small department store in Opelika. Location: Opelika, Alabama.

10 year old delivery boy for an Opelika drug store. Gets $3 a week. Location: Opelika, Alabama.

An 11 year old delivery boy for an Opelika meat market. Location: Opelika, Alabama.

"Red Line" messenger service. See night messenger report. Location: Sacramento, California

Manley Creasson, 914 W. 6 St. Messenger #6, Mackay Telegraph Co. Says he is 14; school records say 13. Says he has steady job - "Been a messenger for years. Get $15 for 2 weeks' pay." Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Jack Ryan, 6-year-old newsie, who lives at 126 1/2 W. Reno St. Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Ben Collins, 515 N. Walnut St. Been working steady for Mackay Telegraph Co. for 1 month. 13 years old. Says he makes $5 a week. Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

(Images: Library of Congress)


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