There’s an expression historians use when describing the great American expansion of the mid-19th century into Iowa…
The press followed the plow.
Statistics show, for example, that between 1836 and 1860, 222 newspapers sprung up across the Hawkeye State, with most of them being small town weeklies! But, like it is with most small businesses, it’s one thing to open a business, but quite another keeping it going. The 1860 Iowa census reveals that only 104 of those 222 newspapers – less than half – were still being published, meaning 118 of those startups crashed and burned. Ouch!
Quite honestly, it took a lot of time, energy, resources, and a good deal of political maneuvering to keep a small-town newspaper going. Historian William J. Peterson gives us this overview…
The changing political complexion of the state, the over zealous ambitions of young editors, the scattered population, the uncertainty of mail delivery, the small amount of advertising, the high subscription rates coupled with the failure of patrons to pay subscriptions, and the intense competition, all combined to cause such heavy casualties.
One such adventurous newspaperman, was John King, the founder of Iowa’s first newspaper, The Du Buque Visitor.
King arrived in Dubuque, from Ohio, in 1833, the same year the city was incorporated, partnering with Alexander George in a lead mining business known as the Bee Branch. Over time, both men became invested in the growth and success of Dubuque and actively worked to improve life in the community. To this end, King left the mining business to establish a newspaper, which he thought would unify the region and attract new residents and businesses.
In the early spring of 1836, King traveled back to Cincinnati, purchasing a Smith Hand Press (see above) and all the necessary type, paper, ink and other supplies, having it all shipped by riverboat back to Dubuque. King then recruited William Jones, an experienced printer from Ohio, and Andrew Keesecker, a printing assistant and editorial writer from nearby Galena, Illinois, to join him in his new Dubuque office.
On Wednesday, May 11, 1836, King and his team published Iowa’s first weekly paper – The Du Buque Visitor.
In the Visitor’s prospectus, King wrote…
We confidently assure the public, that our paper shall not be diverted under any consideration, from an impartial, independent, and honorable course, either to puff or traduce any individual; but shall be faithfully devoted to the general paramount interests of the community in which it is to circulate. Its columns will be open to all political essays, if penned in the spirit of free inquiry.
Sadly, King’s high ideals were dealt a severe blow when political differences soon developed between King and William Jones, resulting in the running of an ad seeking “any journeyman printer of good moral habits” to replace Jones. Not long after, the political opinions King was promoting began to draw complaints from subscribers, and by the end of the year, financial difficulties led King to sell the paper to William C. Chapman. The latter was a strongly partisan voice in support of Andrew Jackson, and often at odds with subscribers and the general political climate of the community.
Chapman’s tenure at the paper was short lived, and he soon sold the business to William H. Turner. Turner saw the paper through the completion of its first year, returning to the principles and intent of King’s original prospectus. King returned to the Visitor in 1837, partnering with William W. Coriell and John B. Russell to purchase it from Turner and changing the name to The Iowa News. In 1841, The News evolved into The Miners Express, which in turn merged with The Dubuque Herald in 1854, ceasing production as The Dubuque Herald/Telegraph in 1901.
And, so it went with so many of the early newspapers of Iowa. Yet, despite the many problems, the papers just kept coming. Over the next several years – 1836-1840 – five additional Iowa cities, all located on the Mississippi River, came on-line with their own weekly newspapers…
- June 28, 1837 – Montrose, Iowa – The Western Adventurer and Herald of the Upper Mississippi – Dr. Isaac Gallard, publisher. Ceased publication in 1838.
- July 10, 1837 – Burlington, Iowa – The Wisconsin Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser – James Clarke, publisher. In 1837, evolved into the Iowa Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser and ceased publication in 1846. A revised Gazette returned in the late 19th century, merging with The Burlington Hawk-Eye in the early 1930’s.
- March 28, 1838 – Ft. Madison, Iowa – The Ft. Madison Patriot – James G. Edwards, publisher. In June of 1839, Edwards relocated to Burlington to bring some head-to-head competition to Clarke – renaming his paper, in the fall of 1839 – The Burlington Hawk-eye. Click here to read more about that story. Today, The Hawk-eye is still in publication, billing itself as “Iowa’s oldest newspaper.”
- August 4, 1838 – Davenport, Iowa – The Iowa Sun and Davenport and Rock Island News – Andrew Logan, publisher. Became The Iowa Sun in 1840, The Davenport Iowa Sun in 1841, finally ceasing publication in 1842.
- October 23, 1840 – Bloomington (Muscatine), Iowa – The Iowa Standard – William Crum, publisher. Four days later The Bloomington Herald began production – Thomas Hughes, publisher. Click here to read about these two newspapermen. Crum moved The Standard to Iowa City in 1841, renaming it The Iowa City Standard (more on that below). Hughes relocated to Iowa City as well (1841) but The Bloomington Herald remained until 1849, when it became The Muscatine Journal, which ceased publication in 1890.
In another post we introduced you to Thomas Hughes and William Crum, two hard-nosed newspaper competitors during the earliest days of newspapers in Iowa. Crum, who teamed up with W.D. Bailey from Bloomington, is credited with starting Iowa City’s first newspaper, The Iowa City Standard, publishing his first edition on June 10, 1841.
Thomas Hughes was quick to follow, teaming with V.P. Van Antwerp, to roll out The Iowa Capitol Reporter six months later, on December 6, 1841. Click here to read more about these two men.
We must also mention that Crum and Thomas weren’t the only two newspaper men trying to compete for this growing Iowa City market. For a short time in 1841, a third option existed, The Iowa City Argus. So, within one year, Iowa City went from zero newspapers to three. While Jackson’s Iowa City Argus didn’t make it – closing up shop in 1842 – both Crum and Hughes successfully brought two reading options to the good citizens of Iowa City, both of which had a long history serving our community and to some degree, while their names are long gone, both newspapers did play a part in those other publications that followed.
As we close, allow us to give you a brief synopsis of Iowa City newspapers over the last 175 years…
- 1841 – The Iowa City Standard – Motto: “Impartially devoted to the dissemination of truth and popular intelligence.” Renamed The Iowa Standard in 1842, becoming The Iowa (City) Republican in 1848. For one year – 1920-21 – became The Iowa Farm Republic, returning as The Republican in 1922, then The Johnson County News before ceasing publication in 1923.
- 1841 – The Iowa City Argus – Motto: “Universal equality of right, and sovereignty of the people’s will.” Ceased publication in 1842.
- 1841 – The Iowa Capitol Reporter – Motto: “He is a free man whom the truth makes free.” Became The Weekly (Iowa) State Reporter in 1857, ceasing production in 1861.
- 1854 – The Iowa State Journal and Sunbeam. Originally published in Keokuk, the Journal lasted one year – 1854 – in Iowa City. As the header proclaimed “Devoted to Strict Temperance” publisher S.S. Howe found the Iowa City market a bit ‘dry’. Sorry, for the pun.
- 1860 – The State Democratic Press came into existence in 1860, and when John P. Irish took over as editor in 1864, he changed the name to The Iowa State Press – making it into a major competitor to the two Republican-based papers. In 1904, The State Press evolved into The Iowa City Daily Press – 1904-1920.
- 1891 – The Iowa Citizen – a Republication paper competing with The Iowa City Republican, became The Iowa City Citizen in 1907.
- 1920 – The Iowa City Press-Citizen was a result of a merger between The Iowa City Daily Press and The Iowa City Citizen and remains as Iowa City’s primary newspaper today.
- 1868 – The Daily Iowan – The University of Iowa, of course, should be mentioned here as well. The Daily Iowan, in one form or another, has been in existence since 1868. It began as The University Reporter (1868 – 1880). In 1879, The Vidette (1879 – 1880) emerged as a rival paper, and the two publications merged in September 1881 into The Vidette-Reporter (1881- 1901), a tri-weekly paper. The Vidette-Reporter eventually combined with The SUI Quill (1891 – 1901), a weekly literary publication, to form The Daily Iowan in 1901. Click here to read more about The Daily Iowan.
Here’s a tip of the old hat to you, Dad. This page is written in your memory! Long live hot-lead newspapers!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.