Sorry if this is a dumb question or if you've addressed it before, but I'm curious, was Davey Jacobs a real person/based on a real person, or were he and Les just characters created by Disney?
It is definitely not a dumb question! I was actually just thinking about writing about this, so thank you for giving me a push! The short answer is that to my knowledge Les is completely made up, and Davey is only kind of based on a real person.
There was indeed a newsboy named David who was the president of the newsboy union. But that is more or less the extent of the similarities.
For one thing, David’s last name was not Jacobs like it is in Newsies, but Simon, Simons, Simonds, or Symonds depending on what source you look at. While David Jacobs is Jewish, David Simon was probably Irish, based on some context clues.
According to an interview in the New York Tribune, David Simon was 21 years old, and had been selling papers since he was eight. His selling spot was City Hall Park, where he employed several other boys to help him out. He would take a cut of their profits, and in return he would offer them protection and a good selling spot. He was a champion prize fighter and a frequenter of several athletic clubs, so he was a good man to have on your side.
During the strike, David took a leading role as president of the union. He was part of a delegation that met with William Randolf Hearst near the beginning of the strike. He spoke at the rally, reading out a list of resolutions of the union, as well as asking the strikers not to use violence. He contacted the police about parade permits after they had been refused the day before. Basically David was involved in most of the behind-the-scenes work of the union, especially in the early days.
On July 26, David Simon and Kid Blink were accused of accepting a bribe of $400 ($11,000 in today’s money) to return to selling the World and Journal. The two were tried in a pseudo-court before a jury of other strikers lead by Race Track Higgins. Sources vary on the outcome of the trial, but it seems they were mostly forgiven, but lost a fair bit of honour. That night, the two were chased through the streets by an angry gang of strikers, so even if they were found innocent, clearly not everybody forgave them.
After he was accused of betraying the strike, David Simons stepped down as union president. He continued to work with the executive committee though, as the treasurer.
I don’t have any information on what happened to David Simons after the strike. As always, if you know anything more please do tell me. I do, however, know what he looked like. Here is a photo of him taken in the final days of the strike: