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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

American Newspapers, 1800-1860

A guide to understanding and using antebellum American newspapers.

Video



This video is fully sub-titled. Click here to view a complete transcript.

Learn More About Country Newspapers

There are few general histories of country newspaper publishers. For the most part, you'll find the best information in books and articles on the newspaper publishers of individual states (for example The Country Printer: New York State, 1785-1830). William David Sloan provides an exhaustive list (up to its publication date, 1989) of articles, dissertations, and books on country newspapers in chapter 10, "Frontier and Regional Journalism, 1800-1900", in his book American Journalism: An Annotated Bibliography.

Job Printing Gallery

Job printing is work done for hire, and contracted on an individual basis. Job printing was an important source of income for publishers of country newspapers during this period. Examples of job printing from this period include broadside advertisements, circulars, handbills, leaflets, flyers, lottery tickets, political literature, almanacs, gazetteers, sermons, orations, annual reports, religious periodicals, meeting minutes, forms, certificates, invitations, and more.

Often the job printing was the most profitable part of the business, and it sometimes outlived the newspaper itself (example: the Bureau County Tribune ceased publication in the 1950s, but the company still exists, as the Tribune Printing Company, specializing in modern-day job printing).

Below is a gallery of job printing examples:

Government Printing Gallery

Notes

Notes 0 through 15 refer to places in the video.

00:28 – 00:31 Richard B. Kielbowicz, News in the Mail: The Press, Post Office, and Public Information, 1700-1860s (New York: Greenwood, 1989), 141.

00:32 – 00:49 Michael R. Haines, "Population Characteristics," in Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present, ed. Richard Sutch and Susan B. Carter (New York City: Cambridge University Press), 1:17-25.

00:50 – 01:03 For more on the on the rural-nature of many so-called "urban" centers, especially on the frontier, see Donald F. Carmony, "The Pioneer Press in Indiana," Indiana History Bulletin 31, no. 10 (October, 1954): 197.

01:04 - 01:10 There were more country papers than city papers in this period, see David J. Russo, The Origins of Local News in the U.S. Country Press, 1840s-1870s (Lexington, Ky: Association for Education in Journalism, 1980), 6. Most of the newspapers from this period, whether urban or rural, were small weeklies, see: David Paul Nord, Communities of Journalism: a History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2001), 88. For the growth of the country press, see: Rollo G. Silver, The American Printer, 1787-1825 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967), 133; Milton W. Hamilton, The Country Printer: New York State, 1785-1830 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), 49; George Henry Payne, "Emigration and the Papers of the West," in History of Journalism in the United States (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1920), 205; William Henry Lyon, "The Significance of Newspapers on the American Frontier," Journal of the West 19, no. 2 (April, 1980): 5; William Henry Lyon, The Pioneer Editor in Missouri, 1808-1860 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1965), 18; Gerald J. Baldasty, The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 16. On the geometric growth of start-up newspapers, see Carolyn Stewart Dyer, "Economic Dependence and Concentration of Ownership Among Antebellum Wisconsin Newspapers,” Journalism History 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1980):42.

01:26 – 01:30 Lewis A Pryor, "The 'Adin Argus': The End of the Hand Press Era of Country Weeklies," Pacific Historian 17, no. 1 (January, 1973):3; Carmony gives 16-34 inches high by 10-18 inches wide as typical, in "The Pioneer Press", 224.

02:55 – 03:08 Carmony, "The Pioneer Press", 224.

03:21 – 03:27 John W. Tebbel, The Compact History of the American Newspaper, Rev. ed. (New York: Hawthorn, 1969), 249; Hamilton, Country Printer, 75; and George S. Hage, Newspapers on the Minnesota Frontier, 1849-1860 ([St. Paul]: Minnesota Historical Society, 1967), 47. For example, in 1840 the city of Quincy, Illinois had a population of 2,319, and by 1850 it had grown to 6,900. By 1852, two of its newspapers had changed from weeklies to dailies. Franklin Scott, in Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879 (Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1910), lxx, argues that the switch to daily publication had more to do with the availability of telegraph service. According to David Wilcox, in Quincy and Adams County: History and Representative Men (Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1919),1: 460, and Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, lxix, telegraph service began in Quincy on July 8, 1848, provided by Henry C. O'Reilly's Atlantic, Lake, and Mississippi company. However, if one examines the newspapers, the percentage of telegraphic news in each issue is very small--sometimes zero. The Quincy Daily Morning Courier began publication in 1845, before the arrival of the telegraph; the Quincy Herald introduced its daily edition in 1849; the Quincy Daily Journal began and ceased publication in 1851; the Quincy Tribune began daily publication with its first issue in 1852; and the Quincy Whig introduced its daily edition in 1852. According to Carmony, in "Pioneer Press," 230, some frontier weeklies increased publication frequency to two or three issues per week during sessions of the state legislature, or during important political campaigns.

03:28 – 03:32 Terence A. Tanner, "Newspapers and Printing Presses in Early Illinois," American Periodicals 3 (1993): 100; Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 147; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 153.

03:36 – 03:53 Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 148-149.

03:54 – 04:05 Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 149-150; John W. Miller, in "Frontier Newspapers and National News: Indiana in the Early Nineteenth Century," Maryland Historian 14, no. 2 (Fall/Winter, 1983): 1, notes as an example that Indiana's editors would have received most of their exchanges from either the Eastern seaboard, or from "regional centers such as Louisville or Cincinnati".

04:11 – 04:14 Kielbowicz, in News in the Mail, 149-150, writes that in 1843 each publisher received, on average, 364 newspapers through the exchanges, though that average includes the big city newspapers as well as the country newspapers.

04:14 – 04:16 Miller, "Frontier Newspapers," 1.

04:28 – 04:37 Richard B. Kielbowicz, "News Gathering by Mail in the Age of the Telegraph: Adapting to a New Technology," Technology and Culture 28, no. 1 (January, 1987): 33-34; Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 142 and 154; The east and west coasts were not connected by the telegraph until 1861.

04:49 – 04:59 Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 141; Lyon, "Significance of Newspapers," 141; Miller, "Frontier Newspapers," 1; and Hamilton, Country Printer, 109 and 139.

04:59 – 05:06 Tebbel, Compact History, 248.

05:07 – 05:27 Why wait to read in an expensive weekly newspaper what your neighbor can tell you today for free? Russo, Origins of Local News, 2-3; Baldasty, Commercialization of News, 49; Bill Reader, "Local News," in Encyclopedia of American Journalism, ed. Stephen L. Vaughn (New York: Routledge, 2008): 274; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 141; Miller, "Frontier Newspapers," 1; Hamilton, Country Printer, 139; see also Hazel D. Garcia on the role of personal correspondence in supplementing the lack of local news published in newspapers, in "Letters Tell the News (Not "Fit to Print?') About the Kentucky Frontier," Journalism History 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1980): 49.

05:28 – 05:38 Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History, 1690-1960. 3d ed. (New York: MacMillan, 1962), 205.

05:39 – 05:45 Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 162; Hamilton, Country Printer, 146.

05:46 – 05:51 Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, xxxiii.

05:53 – 06:05 Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 63; William E. Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," American Journalism 5, no. 1 (Winter, 1988): 35; Russo, Origins of Local News, 6.

06:07 – 06:30 Russo, Origins of Local News, 2-4, and 20.

06:31 – 06:35 Mott, American Journalism, 196.

06:43 – 06:49 Carmony, "Pioneer Press," 224.

06:50 – 06:54 David L. Jamison, "Newspapers and the Press," in Encyclopedia of the United States in the 19th Century, ed. Paul Finkelman (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001)2:419.

06:55 – 07:00 Baldasty, Commercialization of News, 154.

07:25 – 07:50 Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, xxxvi; Tebbel, Compact History, 250.

08:02 – 08:33 Rita L. Moroney, History of the U.S. Postal Service, 1775-1984 (Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Postal Service, 1985), 5.

08:46 – 08:56 Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, liii; Hamilton, Country Printer, 51; James E. Davis, Frontier Illinois (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1998), 274.

08:56 – 09:04 Payne, "Emigration," 201 and 213; Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 28; Hamilton, Country Printer, 51 and 53.

09:05 – 09:09 See for example Silver, American Printer, 130; Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 36; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 38-39; Barbara L. Cloud, "A Party Press? Not Just Yet! : Political Publishing on the Frontier," Journalism History 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1980):54; Dyer, "Economic Dependence," 44; Russo, Origins of Local News, 26; Hage, Newspapers on the Minnesota Frontier, 3-25; Davis, Frontier Illinois, 380. Examples cited by Lyon, in Pioneer Editor, 161, are: Western Emigrant (Boonville, MO), January 24, 1839, p. 3, col. A ; Boonville Observer (Boonville, MO), April 28, 1846, p. 1, col. A; and Wisconsin Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser (Burlington, Wisconsin Territory), July 10, 1837, p. 2, col. B.

09:28 – 09:34 Mott, American Journalism, 282; Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, liv-lv; Cloud, "A Party Press?," 54; and Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 26.

09:35 -- 09:44 Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, liii-liv; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 25; Tebbel, Compact History, 250; and Payne, "Emigration," 205.

09:46 – 09:49 Silver, American Printer, 118, Payne, "Emigration," 213, Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 8 and 87; and Dyer, "Economic Dependence," 42.

09:49 – 09:51 Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 37; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 21, 25, and 31; Tebbel, Compact History, 250; Silver, American Printer, 123; and Tanner, "Newspapers and Printing Presses in Early Illinois," 100.

09:52 – 09:53 Dyer, "Economic Dependence," 42; For more on the transient "tramp printers", see Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 32; Silver, American Printer, 123; Tebbel, Compact History, 248; and Tanner, "Newspapers and Printing Presses in Early Illinois," 103-104.

09:54 – 09:59 Dyer, "Economic Dependence," 42; Fred F. Endres, "'We Want Money and Must Have It': Profile of an Ohio Weekly, 1841-1847," Journalism History 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1980):69; and Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, xxxvii. See also Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 23 and 105. Hamilton gives "several hundred dollars" as the minimum for even a small operation, in Country Printer, 57.

10:00 – 10:04 Scott Derks and Tony Smith, The Value of a Dollar: Colonial Era to the Civil War, 1600-1865 (Millerton, N.Y.: Grey House, 2005), 231, 305, and 381.

10:05 – 10:08 Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 26 and 103; and Dyer, "Economic Dependence," 43.

10:09 – 10:12 Hamilton, Country Printer, 52-53.

10:13 – 10:19 Cloud, "A Party Press?," 72 and 54; Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 39; and Mott, American Journalism, 282.

10:21 – 10:29 Hamilton, Country Printer, 110-111. In the newest territories, the government sometimes paid a printer to set up a newspaper: see Payne, "Emigration," 204-205; and Michael Emery and Edwin Emery, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, 8th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1996), 80.

10:31 – 10:46 Lyon, in Pioneer Editor, 23, notes that in 1840 country newspapers employed and average of four workers. According to Lyon, 93, one country paper in 1808 used a press that required two men to operate, and could print one side of 75 sheets in an hour. Such a paper would probably have been a screw press. Another paper, in 1822, was using a lever press, which could produce 125 papers in an hour. By 1837, this same newspaper had increased to daily publication, and was using the newly invented Adams steam-powered printing press, capable of printing four hundred sheets an hour; six years later the paper added a rotary press that could print 1,200 sheets an hour. According to John Nerone and Kevin G. Barnhurst, in "U.S. Newspaper Types, the Newsroom, and the Division of Labor, 1750-2000," Journalism Studies 4, no. 4 (2003):438, few country newspapers of this period would have used a steam press, and the newspaper cited by Lyon was the St. Louis Missouri Republican, which really ceased to be a country newspaper after 1835. Lyon, in Pioneer Editor, 109-111, notes that this period was one of instability and decline in the apprentice system. Apprenticeships often amounted to child enslavement. The experience was rarely a happy one, for either master or apprentice, and apprentices often ran away. Silver, American Printer, 6-7; George G. Stevens, New York Typographical Union No. 6: Study of a Modern Trade Union and its Predecessors (Albany, N.Y.: J.B. Lyon, 1913), 65-68; and Hamilton, Country Printer, 39; describe how these runaway apprentices became "half-way journeymen", who knew the craft of printing, but were willing to work for less because they had not yet received their indentures. Halfway journeymen frequently became wandering, "tramp printers". Relations between newspaper operators and their printing staff were generally characterized by ill-will on both sides.

10:47 – 10:54 Hamilton, Country Printer, 146-147.

10:55 – 10:59 Russo, Origins of Local News, 15-17.

11:13 – 11:17 Hamilton, Country Printer, 156.

11:18 – 11:24 Hamilton, Country Printer, 59; Carmony, "Pioneer Press," 193; and Davis, Frontier Illinois, 273.

11:25 – 11:28 Payne, "Emigration," 202.

11:29 – 11:32 Hamilton, Country Printer, 157.

11:33 – 11:37 Hamilton, Country Printer, 62-63, and 131. Legal advertising, or "legal notices", continued to be an important source of revenue for country newspapers well into the twentieth century. See John V. Lund, Newspaper Advertising (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1947), 398. A newspaper had to meet certain requirements before it could accept legal advertising. These requirements were set by the state governments, but usually the paper had to demonstrate a record of continuous publication--at least six months--and proof of general circulation. In some states, each county officially designated a paper for legal advertising. Legal notices often paid at a higher rate than display advertising, if for no other reason than that newspapers often gave discounted rates to advertisers who took out space for long periods, and legal advertisements usually appeared for a shorter period of time.

11:38 – 11:41 Hamilton, Country Printer, 59.

11:42 – 11:46 Mott, American Journalism, 303; Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, xxxix; Carolyn Stewart Dyer, in "Census Manuscripts and Circulation Data for Mid-19th Century Newspapers," Journalism History 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1980):67, gives 670 as the mean circulation for Wisconsin newspapers in 1860.

11:47 – 11:54 Tebbel, Compact History, 251.

11:55 – 12:03 Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 93.

12:04 – 12:15 Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 30; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 94.

12:25 – 12:27 Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 36; Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, xxxix; Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 87-91; Clarence S. Brigham, Journals and Journeymen: A Contribution to the History of Early American Newspapers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), 23; and Hamilton, Country Printer, 60 and 65.

12:28 – 12:32 Mott, American Journalism, 203; Endres, "'We Want Money and Must Have It'," 68; Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, xxxix-xl; and Hamilton, Country Printer, 65.

12:40 – 12:43 Tanner, "Newspapers and Printing Presses in Early Illinois," 105; Robert F. Karolevitz, Newspapering in the Old West: A Pictorial History of Journalism and Printing on the Frontier (Seattle: Superior Publishing, 1965), 19-20; and Hamilton, Country Printer, 64.

12:44 – 12:46 Huntzicker, "Historians and the American Frontier Press," 36; Emery, Press and America, 80; Hage, Newspapers on the Minnesota Frontier, 2; and Carmony, "Pioneer Press," 193.

12:50 – 13:02 Sometimes job printing was the most profitable part of the business, and it outlived the newspaper. For more on job printing, see Ryan A. Ross, Early Illinois Newspapers and Job Printers: the Terence A. Tanner Collection (Urbana, Ill.: Graduate school of Library and Information Science, 2010), 23-35.

13:03 – 13:12 Hamilton, Country Printer, 129-131, see especially p. 131.

13:13 – 13:17 Lyon, Pioneer Editor, 14 and chapter 50; and Silver, American Printer, 115, and 120.

13:29 – 13:38 Dyer, "Economic Dependence," 44; Government also generated revenue indirectly for newspapers, by requiring legal notices to appear in newspapers. See Pryor, "Adin Argus," 2.

13:44 – 13:52 Mott, American Journalism, 257.

13:53 – 13:59 Since 1814, two newspapers in every state or territory were paid to publish the federal laws. See 3 Stat. 145. This number was increased in 1818 to three newspapers. See Emery, Press and America, 81; and 3 Stat. 439. In 1846 the number was set back to two newspapers by 9 Stat. 76.The country printers most likely to receive business from the federal government were on the frontier. In the more densely populated states, the laws would more likely be printed in the larger metropolitan newspapers. On the frontier, by contrast, there was no competition from big city newspapers, and in the newest territories these contracts were usually awarded to the first three printers to publish a newspaper, so that in every new territory there was an artificial demand for at least three newspapers. See Lyon, Country Editor, 19; and Carmony, "Pioneer Press," 195.

14:00 – 14:08 Tebbel, Compact History, 251; and Lucy Maynard Salmon, The Newspaper and the Historian (New York: Oxford University Press, 1923), 152.

14:09 – 14:19 Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 537.

14:36 – 14:43 Although people in the country were certainly isolated by today's standards, it's easy to exaggerate what that would have meant. City newspapers were available in the countryside, typically as weekly editions of a daily newspaper. See Andie Tucher, Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America's First Mass Medium (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 171; and Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 62. City newspapers aggressively courted the country market, and in the 1840s and 1850s had become quite successful at attracting country readers. See Russo, Origins of Local News, 6-7. The weekly edition of the New York Tribune was the most successful of all at cultivating the country market: see Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 62. These city newspapers were usually taken by community "opinion leaders": business people, politicians, professionals, and clergy, and the success of the city newspapers was bitterly resented by country editors, even as they borrowed heavily from the city papers to fill their own columns. See Kielbowicz, News in the Mail, 4.