The Rise and Fall of Two Newsies



St. Louis Star-Times newsboys on street. Photograph by Lewis Hine, 1910. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections. N01805.

Around the turn of the 20th Century there were few lives as hard as a newsboy. But just by selling papers, Ben and Willie Greenburg entered a world of prosperity. After ten years, the two “newsies” saved enough to buy a stand outside the Merchants-Laclede Building at Fourth and Olive streets. Their story is one of eighty in The Colorful Characters of St. Louis.

Their customers included bankers, brokers and Rolla Wells, the mayor from 1901 to 1909.  They did so well that Willie spent $112,000 in 1909 – $2.7 million in 2015 money – to build the exclusive Knickerbocker Apartments at Taylor and McPherson.

Willie’s rise was splendid, but it wasn’t enough to spare him a fate that might befall one of the poorly clad orphan newsboys out in the frigid street. At 33, he died of pneumonia.

Willie left the Knickerbocker Apartments to Ben, who married an aspiring opera singer.  But Ben followed his brother in death in 1917 at the Knickerbocker Apartments, a victim of pneumonia. Once a newsie, always a newsie.



Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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