In afternoons hundreds of thousands of workingmen came home and read "The Bulletin." Many of their sons belonged to an army of delivery-boys who fanned out every afternoon from "the branch." "The Branch" was the pick-up place. Branches were in every neighborhood. In the hierarchy of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin's paper-route empire the delivery-boys were aggressive soldiers in a very smart system that insured a large circulation of the paper.
The branch captains didn't deliver papers; they ruled over timely dispersal of the squad. They were bosses and that meant that they were the biggest, toughest kids. They would get respect. They would get more money than a route-carrier. They stayed dry on wet days. The paper went out on time.
Some of the kids walked their routes. Others rode bicycles. A lucky few had Bulletin wagons: the Rolls Royce of wagons. All of the paper-boys had canvas bags with the sponsor's masthead inked into it: "The Evening Bulletin." The bags bulged with papers folded in a way so that the delivery-boy could heave them on to porches from the street. No rubber-bands, thank you. The edition delivered from the "branches" was marked FINAL, the third of seven editions printed each day. It was dumped off the truck about 3:30.
The Bulletin was one of three dailies in Philadelphia. It was published six days in the week: not on Sunday. It sold for three cents. On the routes the paperboys got a penny for each, a healthy percentage of the cost. The driver who delivered probably got a penny as well. It was sold in stores and on newsstands built by carpenters and painted Bulletin Blue. At busy intersections they were enclosed to keep their proprietors dry when it rained. The newspaper had a motto: "In Philadelphia nearly everybody reads The Bulletin" and it was the truth and a full page ad appeared regularly in The New Yorker Magazine, published in a city where there were no Bulletin paper-boys.
Mailmen imitated Bulletin-boys. In rain,in snow, by heat of summer days or in near arctic winter cold, even during eclipses of the sun or the moon, thousands of boys leaned forward under the strain of canvas bags that were larger and heavier than the postal-workers leather sacks, and made their appointed rounds to deliver the day of affections under the masthead: The Evening Bulletin. Dogs attacked mailmen but no paperboys. The scent of dead horseflesh that was made into mailbags drove them beserk.
Today men might watch the six-o-clock news: or cartoons. They might watch a sit-com. They might do other things. There are no Evening Bulletins waiting filled with the news of the day from here and there and everywhere: stats of baseball and horseracing and golf and racquets and football and swimming and hockey and basketball. You won't get all that on the six o'clock news. The paper gave mom tips on cooking, on bridge, on gardening, on etiquette. It announced births and engagements and weddings and social doings and who had died. Columnists vied to influence the uninfluenced; politicians begged for followers. Advertisers wooed potential customers. Theaters announced times of showings and critics criticized the shows. Churches gave notice of services, and religion columns informed the faithful and others of bigger doings in the spiritual world. Jobs were advertised for the needy. And of course the "funnies" eased away all the seriousness of the day. Cartoonists had great followings; they were syndicated. For me and countless other little kids the funnies were our introduction to the daily almanac.
Paperboys would delay delivery until they checked out the doings of their comic-strip heroes. This could agitate customers at the end of the route if the papers arrived late. Time was essential.
See the difference. We're smarter now and absorb all of the events of the world from television. We don't have to read anymore, do we? Sit back on the sofa and click one station to another and when we have enough we can flick to the funnies in half-hour episodes instead of three or four panel quickies. We've reversed the priorities. The news is now the quick-bite.
I got a penny for each paper that I threw up onto a porch. An enterprising kid today can make a thousand dollars in the time that it took a paperboy to deliver thirty-two Bulletins.
Paperboys appeared at "the branch" in the afternoons after three. They milled about and raised minor hell until the big orange and blue truck arrived filled with bundles of FINALS. They were portioned out by the captain to the carriers amid yelling and small confusion: Yo, sixty to you; Hey, eighty-three to you; hey, you. Fifty four to you. Off they went, afoot, on bikes, pulling Rolls Royces to beat the workers to their doors. If a man had to look up the street for a tardy paper-boy the kid was in for it.
My route was different. My load arrived at a special drop down at the end of our street...at seven o'clock. My circulation route was wider than the others. The number of deliveries was less. Tips were better. I had "the bookie route."
The Bulletin went to press seven times a day: Postscript, Night Extra, Final, Two Star, Three Star, (Blue) Four Star Final and (Red) Four Star Final. Seven times a day, like a muezzin's call, the Bulletin went to the streets. In Philadelphia nearly everybody reads the Bulletin.
That's crowd control!
For the route carrier collection time was Friday.
Knock, knock, knock.
I know they're in there. "Bulletin: eighteen cents." They'll give you twenty...or twenty-five. If they have any sense of decency they'll say "Keep the change." On the "bookie-route" the customers were more generous. These guys wanted sports results, horse racing above all and maybe baseball which was, in the forties, played much more in afternoons. The first two pages of the Red Four Star Final were exclusively sports. Regular news was printed on page three and beyond. Is that complicated? Maybe my customers were just sports freaks but I thought they were bookies.
If everyone paid up the 18 cents on time I had a dollar and ninty-two cents and tips. At my age, twelve, that was more than an allowance (fifty cents ? a dollar?). Movies cost a dime. Ice-cream and hot dogs were a nickel. Candy was a penny. Our markets were limited and some of my earnings went into a steel box with a slot on the top and a lock on the bottom that could be opened with breath. The treasury would be raided for special things: birthdays, Christmas presents, summer vacation, an occasional object of fancy, dues for the Boy Scout troop, penny poker games, a fix for a candy-bar.
The legions of paper-boys are long gone from afternoons. Television news pop on screens to satisfy interest of people who tire of syndicated re-runs of Cheers or Married With Children or Star Trek or whatever. Daily evening papers are in memory's heap with buggy-whips and arm-garters. The local weekly paper arrives on Wednesday...or Thursday...and if you don't read it until Saturday you'll read old news from the Saturday before publication.