The First Newspaper
The Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, began publishing daily editions on September 21, 1784. Having first been launched as The Pennsylvania Packet by John Dunlap in 1771, it became the first daily newspaper in the country. The New England Courant, the first independent American newspaper, was published by Benjamin Franklin’s older brother in 1721. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, 37 independent newspapers kept the colonists informed. The press contributed to the war effort by publishing broadsides, relaying information, chronicling the war, and sustaining community life.
Don’t You Want a Paper, Dearie? Read It Through and Through. Tales of War and Tales of Money, Things That People Do
“Don’t You Want a Paper, Dearie?External” Words, Paul West; Music, Jerome Kern; New York: T.B.Harms, 1906. Historic American Sheet MusicExternal. Duke University Libraries
The Press As Revolutionary Force
This edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette was printed by David Hall and Benjamin Franklin without date, number, masthead, or imprint at Philadelphia. The week before, the publishers announced suspension of the Gazette in opposition to Stamp Act provisions requiring newspapers be printed on imported, stamped paper. A week latter this sheet appeared. Lacking the characteristic appearance of a newspaper, the November 7, 1765 edition satisfied subscribers while protecting the firm from legal repercussions.
During the 1780s and 1790s, citizens increasingly turned to the press to monitor political changes of the early national period. In response, several city newspapers began daily publication. Ratification of the United States Constitution, for example, was keenly debated in the press. Passage of the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of the press and ensured newspapers would remain an important medium of political debate.
“‘Papers, evening papers’
was the urchin’s pleading cry.”
Until well into the nineteenth century, most Americans continued to get their news from country weeklies. As a boy Edward A. Barney, editor of the Canaan Reporter, recalled “having a few dailies to peddle around, but there was nothing like a general circulation for them. What news people got in the country they read once a week from their local papers…World events didn’t interest them much; anyway they were contented to bide the coming of the weekly to learn about them.” The Spanish-American War created the first real market for daily newspapers among residents of small town New Hampshire. “There was outside news the country folk couldn’t wait a week for,” he explained.
- The Federalist Papers were originally published as letters in New York newspapers 1787-1788. Use the Research Guide, Federalist Essays in Historic Newspapers to identify holdings of these newspapers in the Library’s Newspaper & Current Periodicals Reading Room.
- Read articles documenting the Spanish-American War in Chronicling America, the historic American newspaper collection. Start with the special feature, Spanish American War: Topics in Chronicling America.
- Search the collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 on newspaper to find items like “J.R. Glenn,” an interview with the publisher of the African-American newspaper The Charlotte Post. “Newsboys” reveals the ins and outs of hawking newspapers.
- Locate additional pictures. Search across pictorial collections on newspaper or journalist. Items retrieved will include a Civil War era photo of a newspaper vendor, a daguerreotype of the New York Tribune staff, and a portrait of Tribune founder and editor Horace Greeley.
- National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection is a rich source of newspaper accounts of historical interest. The Record of the Leslie Suffrage Commission describes the life and experiences of newspaper publisher and suffragist Miriam Leslie.
- Visit Women Come to the Front, which highlights the experience of women journalists during World War II and is one of many Library of Congress online exhibitions.