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In 1872, the Boston Globe Began With a Whimper Not a Bang

The big news on the front page of the first Boston Globe on Monday, March 4, 1872 was church attendance the day before. It was ‘unusually large.’

Even bigger news was a new book about Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It was 'charming.’

No wonder the newspaper struggled during its first year. There wasn’t a word about the Boston Red Stockings, who would dominate the National League that year. The lead gossip item was the number of books in the Bridgeport, Conn., library – 10,000. Their foreign correspondent predicted the explorer David Livingston would not be found in Africa. (Henry Morton Stanley had already found him.)

The March 4, 1872 front page of the Boston Globe.

The March 4, 1872 front page of the Boston Globe.

Boston Globe Gets Its Start

The Boston Globe was founded by a group of businessmen led by Eben Jordan, owner of the Jordan Marsh department store.

It was the Gilded Age, a time of commercial expansion in the North and Reconstruction in the South. The Globe reader could turn to the gossip column to learn the details:

  • Newport, R.I., visitors were adopting the custom of building cottages by the shore.
  • In Massachusetts, Fall River was overtaking Lowell and Lawrence as a manufacturing city.
  • The whaling industry employed only a few hundred mariners, down from 20,000.
  • Rutland, Vt., was sending huge blocks of marble to Boston while Carroll County, N.H., was sending white beans to Beverly, Mass.

People used to gather in front of the windows on Boston's Newspaper Row to read news bulletins from the Globe, the Boston Evening transcript, Boston Herald, Boston Journal, Boston Post and the Associated Press.

It’s hard to imagine anyone stopping in front of the Globe office that first morning to read the news contained within its eight pages. Unless they wanted to know if their check was in the mail or if their ship had come in.

The Globe reported on the time the mail was picked up at the post office. It also reported three steamers, a barque and 30 schooners had arrived in the Port of Boston, but  Philadelphia’s export of ‘rock oil’ was rivaling Boston in volume.

Boston, 1872

Boston, 1872

Not Fake, Not News

Despite a heated race for president of the United States, the Globe’s campaign coverage was a lofty, barely comprehensible statement about President Ulysses S. Grant, referred to as ‘he of the White House.’ Grant could do 'no radical harm' because of ‘a silent influence emanating from his sacred trust,’ according to the Boston Globe.

At least the New Hampshire correspondent noted ‘feelings for politics run very high here,’ and Gen. Dan Sickles would speak that night. The people, wrote the correspondent, ‘highly appreciate the one-legged General's "stump" oratory.’

Circulation would be anemic and the Boston Globe would soon run into financial trouble.

Taylor

Boston Globe Charles taylorMore than a year after the newspaper's debut, its founders hired Charles H. Taylor away from his job as clerk of the Massachusetts General Court to run the paper. He was a 27-year-old Civil War veteran who had worked as a stringer for the New York Tribune and printer for the Boston Traveler.

Taylor would cut the price in half and increase circulation by adding stock quotations, a women’s page and sporting news. He refocused the content away from months-old ramblings about foreign cities to fresh local news. It is chock full of names, names and more names of local people, a formula followed today.

Within three weeks, the Globe’s circulation rose from 8,000 to 30,000. A glance at the Sept. 20, 1874 edition explains why: Sunday services are on the last page, not the first. The turgid factoids about whales and white beans are replaced by local political gossip, police items, weather predictions and theatre announcements.

A typical "Local Intelligence" item:

Some heavy-weight thief stole a $10 tub of butter from G.S. Mendell, No. 5 Asylum street, yesterday afternoon.

Or this:

William Wise made a treble play, yesterday, and was himself put out by a policeman. He got drunk, evaded his horse-car fare, and beat Joseph Partridge, the conductor. His socre may be found at Station VI.

Charles Taylor died in 1921, but his descendants continued to run the Boston Globe. The newspaper went public in 1973 and the New York Times bought it in 1993.

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