Most newspapers cost six cents apiece and were delivered by subscriptions in the early nineteenth century. The first penny press newspaper, Lynde M. Walter's Boston Transcript, debuted on July 24, 1830. It was priced at a quarter of a dollar ($5).
Newspapers became more affordable as printing technologies improved and competition increased. By the 1850s, a newspaper could be bought for ten cents. This price included two pages: one for the front section and one for the back section.
The front page contained local news items such as accidents, murders, and elections. The back page contained advertisements from local businesses seeking to attract readers with special deals or promotions. Some newspapers included foreign news reports from London, Paris, or Berlin. These articles would often take up a whole page themselves!
Newspapers were important tools for politicians to gain support and influence voters. Presidential candidates would write letters to editors to promote their campaigns and respond to criticisms. Other politicians also used newspapers to spread their messages. A senator could write an article praising himself or herself to help get re-elected. Or a member of Congress could write an article condemning their opponents' policies.
Newspaper editors were usually not politicians themselves.
The cost of newspapers tends to keep many ordinary people out. And, while most Americans were literate, there just weren't as many readers as there would be later in the century. Despite this, newspapers were seen to have had a significant impact on the early years of the federal government. With no official calendar and few rules or regulations, presidents needed to know what days it was so they could issue orders to their officers. They also needed to know how long their messages took to reach their destinations so they could schedule their own affairs accordingly. The first thing a newly elected president does is to send out press releases announcing his intentions for changing existing policies or forming new ones. These can sometimes cause problems for him; when William Henry Harrison died after only thirty-one days in office, his replacement, John Tyler, had to write a public letter apologizing for some of his predecessor's more controversial actions.
Newspapers also played a role in the formation of many states. Because they would not go to prison for publishing news, journalists were free to criticize the actions of those in power without fear of reprisal. In 1831, for example, an article written by Thomas Jefferson appeared in the National Intelligencer criticizing the way that Andrew Jackson ran his presidency. This apparently wasn't good enough for Jackson who had the editor arrested on charges of libel. When Virginia passed a law making such attacks a crime, it was too much for Jeffersons to bear and he moved to Washington State.
There were 200 newspapers published in the United States in 1800. There were 3000 by 1860. Many of the new urban publications established in the 1830s and 40s had remarkable circulation figures. The New York Sun, for example, was read from coast to coast and into Canada.
The number of daily newspapers has increased since then, but even in 1870, there were only about 250 daily newspapers printed in the United States. In 1890, there were 682 daily newspapers printed in America!
Today, there are over 2400 daily newspapers printed in the United States.
In addition to being one of the first newspapers in North America, the Boston Gazette is also the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country. It was first published on March 2, 1704, and today it is owned by Boston Herald Media.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is another famous paper that started out as a colonial publication. It was founded in 1765 by Benjamin Franklin's brother John and it was originally called The Pennsylvania Evening Post. In 1824, the name was changed to The Philadelphia Inquirer with the goal of providing "the people with accurate information".
Other famous newspapers include The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Miami Herald.