The Paperboy Business: Vital lessons learned over time
Vital lessons learned over time
Some childhood memories are strong – almost indelibly etched into an absorbent young brain needing to be filled, and they’re retained forever.
For me, one of those permanent memories is the experience of being a paperboy in the 1950’s for Houghton’s Daily Mining Gazette. For an 11-year old in 1957, the distraction of TV didn’t yet exist in my household, and computers, video games and cellphones were far off in science fiction future, so having my first real job was the huge focus of my life. I worked as a carrier through 1960 – about 4 years total.
I’m writing this from sheer recall, which attests to the strength and vividness of these memories, which survive after more than 60 years of other life experiences. But please forgive any minor inaccuracies or misspellings of names, which likely will occur. I’m thankful to Mike Laurin and Steve Wyble – two other childhood friends who also worked at the Gazette and helped fill in my voids of memory, and to my brother, Bob, who had earlier worked the big Gazette route covering East Houghton.
My writings are in installments covering: 1. The Gazette Operation and Production, 2. My Gazette Route – Downtown Houghton, 3. The Paperboy Business, and 4. Houghton Life In the 50’s (a more general look at those wonderful times).
I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse of the Gazette in much simpler times:
It was during my run as a paperboy, that the Gazette introduced a big change. This came in the form of a magazine subscription program, whereby a subscriber could pay an extra 15 cents (a total of 50 cents per week) and get a couple of magazines subscriptions. As part of the big promotion plan for this new program, the paperboys were enlisted as the primary sales force. A “city-slicker” rep of the magazine company, Mr. Metcalf, was brought in to explain the program and give the boys a pep talk. To add some incentives, a big contest was unveiled whereby any boy that sold X number of magazine subscriptions to their customers could win prizes like ball gloves, basket balls and bicycles. But the grand prize was a trip to Milwaukee. This was a huge plum to a boy that had only been out of the U.P. one time in his life and yearned to travel. So although I was shy and not much of a sales person, I put my energies to it and amazingly sold just enough magazine subscriptions to qualify for the trip. (My dad was my first “sale,” and we decided on Newsweek and Popular Science.) I even got my picture in the paper.
Several of the other boys also managed to win the big trip to Milwaukee. So that July, myself and about five other boys along with our manager, Lyle Weber, boarded the Greyhound at Goodman’s Store in Houghton and headed south for the big city. Suffice to say, it was one of the highlights of my young life. I might as well have gone to Rome or Paris. We stayed at the YMCA in Milwaukee and went to a Braves baseball game. We also visited the Brookfield Zoo and toured the American Can Company. Wow! I’ll never forget that great worldly adventure – all thanks to the Gazette.
All-in-all, my time as a paperboy for the Gazette was very worthwhile. In addition to learning the basics of a small business enterprise and developing a work ethic, it gave me money for a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise have had. My dad had an arrangement with me that for my more expensive ‘must-have items’ he pay half, and I had to come up with the other half. My half came largely from my Gazette earnings – and also some snow shoveling jobs. This 50-50 approach was a great concept that I think kids today could benefit from. It led to my having a nice bike and good sports equipment – especially the more expensive hockey and ski equipment. Of course, some of it also went into savings for that eventual first car. But I always had a stake in the things I owned, which gave it added value.
The times have certainly changed, but I’ll never forget my Gazette experience and the many lessons learned as a vital cog of the newspaper business.
Editor’s note: This is the final installment of Roger Smith’s series looking back upon his days as a paperboy in the Copper Country for the Daily Mining Gazette. We have been honored to share this look back both at his history as well as our own.
Smith currently lives in California.