Telegraph Messenger Boys and Their Shocking Stories

messenger telegraph boys photo

These photos of telegraph messenger boys taken at the turn of the 19th century seem innocent and almost charming on the surface. However, most of the children led troubled lives that involved drugs and alcohol. Lewis Wick Hine, an American sociologist and photographer joined the National Child Labour Committee in 1908. He spent ten years interviewing and photographing messenger boys and as a result exposed how they were cruelly exploited.  The captions for each of these photos are attributed to Hine.

messenger telegraph boys photo
Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company. Said fifteen years old. Exposed to Red Light dangers. Location: Waco, Texas. 1913 (Lewis Wick Hine)

messenger telegraph boys photo

messenger telegraph boys photo
Jacksonville, Florida, messenger boy. 1913
messenger telegraph boys photo
A typical messenger boy in New Orleans. The telegraph companies are trying to obey the law, and few violations occur. 1913  
Telegraph messenger boys. Danville Messengers. 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. See Hine report on Va. messengers for data about the tallest boy. Location: Danville, Virginia. 1911 (Lewis Wick Hine)
messenger telegraph boys photo
Postal Telegraph boy, Danville, Va. Location: Danville, Virginia 1911 
messenger telegraph boys photo
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. 1913
messenger telegraph boys photo
A.D.T. boy, 13 years old. 1 1/2 years at it; works from noon till 10:30 P.M. Said he “carries notes, etc.” Location: Burlington, Vermont. 1910
messenger telegraph boys photo
Postal Telegraph Boy. David Caplan, 9 Monroe Street. Said he was 15 years old. Works from 11 P.M. to 8 A. M., often down around the docks. Location: New York, New York 1908
messenger telegraph boys photo
Preston DeCosta , fifteen year old messenger #3 for Bellevue Messenger Service. I ran across him and took photos while he was carrying notes back and forth between a prostitute in jail and a pimp in the Red Light. He had read all the notes and knew all about the correspondence. He was a fine grained adolescent boy. Has been delivering message and drugs in the Red Light for 6 months and knows the ropes thoroughly. “A lot of these girls are my regular customers. I carry ’em messages and get ’em drinks, drugs, etc. Also go to the bank with money for ’em. If a fellow treats ’em right, they’ll call him by number and give him all their work. I got a box full of photos I took of these girls – some of ’em I took in their room.” Works until 11:00 P.M. Location: San Antonio, Texas.
messenger telegraph boys photo
Telegraph messenger boys. Group of Dime Messengers Service boys, 1228 H St., N.W., at the main office. The youngest boys are Eddie Tahoory (14 yrs. old) . Said to be a recent comer. Lives, 108 Fourth St., N.E., and Earle Griffith (15 yrs. old), 107 Fifteenth St., N.W., Washington, D.C. From a questionable home. Mother eloped with boarder. Took children with her. They said they never know 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.” 1912
messenger telegraph boys photo
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.
messenger telegraph boys photo
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. 1913
messenger telegraph boys photo
For nine years this sixteen year old boy has been newsboy and messenger for drug stores and telegraph companies. He was recently brought before the Judge of the Juvenile Court for incorrigibility at home. Is now out on parole, and was working again for drug company when he got a job carrying grips in the Union Depot. He is on the job from 6:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. (seventeen hours a day) for seven days in the week. His mother and the judge think he uses cocaine, and yet they let him put in these long hours every day. He told me “There ain’t a house in ‘The Acre’ (Red Light) that I ain’t been in. At the drug store, all my deliveries were down there.” Says he makes from $15.00 to $18.00 a week. Eugene Dalton. Location: Fort Worth