Newspapers thrived spectacularly in early nineteenth-century America. By the 1830s, the United States had around 900 newspapers, about twice as many as the United Kingdom—and more newspaper readers. This article will survey this extraordinary rise of journalism in America.
Before the advent of the modern newspaper, printers' bills of lading and shipping lists were often published as broadsides by publishers who would print and distribute them themselves. These items often contained advertisements for other products or services, which is how they gained attention from readers. It is estimated that up to half of these publications were not read at all but thrown away instead. The others were read by those who could afford to buy paper, ink, and perhaps even books. They told the news of the day and sometimes included comic strips, poems, and stories.
In 1765, William Goddard published the first American-made newspaper, called the New-Haven Gazette. It was only issued every second week and lasted only eight issues before being replaced by another paper called the Connecticut Journal. However, both papers had a great impact on their time because they were the first attempts at publishing news on a daily basis in North America.
The next major development in American journalism came five years later with the launch of the Philadelphia Gazette.
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, reported that as of 1835, half of Manhattan's residents were reading it.
The number of newspapers in America more than doubled between 1800 and 1860. In fact, it increased so rapidly that by the end of the 19th century, almost every town with 10,000 people or more had a newspaper published on weekdays only. These papers covered everything from local news in rural areas to national politics and industry for cities.
In addition to becoming more numerous, newspapers also became larger-scale operations. In 1821, William Cobb founded the first daily newspaper west of the Alleghenies, which began publication in Philadelphia. By 1850, when the last numbers are available, over 100 daily newspapers were being published in America. Although most newspapers were still printed on hand-presses in those days, some large papers such as The New York Times used steam-powered presses.
Another trend that emerged during this time was the emergence of weekly newspapers. Only five years after the first daily was published, eight weekly newspapers came on the market. These magazines covered all aspects of life from politics to sports and entertainment.
In 1840, there were 1,631 newspapers in the United States; by 1850, there were 2,526 with a total yearly circulation of half a billion copies for a population of just less than 23.2 million people. The majority of those newspapers were weeklies, but the increase in daily newspapers was even more noticeable. The daily circulation rate was already above 100,000 at the beginning of the 19th century and reached almost 600,000 by 1855.
Newspapers were an important element in the social life of the time. They contained news about events happening in the country and around the world. They also published articles on politics, education, science, and sports. Newspaper publishers often had strong opinions about current events and would express them through bold headlines and editorial columns.
Newspaper readers were interested not only in what was going on in their town or state, but in everything that was happening across the nation and around the world. Daily newspapers helped citizens stay up to date on events that might affect their lives in some way, whether it be political, economic, or social. At a moment's notice, they could read about something new that had been discovered, someone who was elected to office, or an accident reported near where they lived. Newspapers offered a quick glance into the world outside their own small sphere of action and interest.
Newspapers were an important form of communication for groups that couldn't meet in person.