The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865

The Sun

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As the number of newspapers grew throughout the United States, so did the frequency of publication. The first daily newspaper in America appeared in Philadelphia in 1783, and by 1800 Philadelphia had six dailies, New York had five, Baltimore three, and Charleston two. By 1820 every major city in the country had at least one daily newspaper, and many other cities and towns had twice-weekly or thrice-weekly papers.

Here we see an example of a very popular daily newspaper, the New York Sun, the first so-called “penny paper” in America. The Sun was established in 1833 and targeted the middle and lower classes, who could afford only a penny a day for a newspaper rather than the six cents charged by most dailies. Because of the low price of these papers, a large circulation was required, and the quest for circulation encouraged news scoops, “extra” editions, and newsboys hawking the papers on the streets. Though the penny papers were usually partisan in politics, they were not subservient to parties. Their economic base was advertising, and so they focused on news that would attract a wide variety of readers. The Sun was very successful and inspired other penny papers, including the New York Herald and New York Tribune. By 1842 New York City had nine one-penny and two-penny dailies and seven traditional six-penny dailies.

The success of the Sun and other daily newspapers led to another media institution: the press association. As penny papers competed with established papers and with one another, they sought the most current news, and their news gathering methods became increasingly aggressive. To “beat” their rivals, New York newspapers used fast harbor sloops, special pony expresses, and even carrier pigeons to shave a few hours off the time needed to get news from Europe and Washington, D.C. In 1846, with the start of the Mexican-American War and the early development of the telegraph, timely information became significantly more costly, and the highly competitive newspapers were drawn into something new: cooperation. The proprietor of the Sun, Moses Yale Beach (1800-1868),organized the leading newspaper publishers of New York to pool their resources to get the war news. The original members included, in addition to the Sun, the Herald, the Tribune, the Courier and Enquirer, the Journal of Commerce, and the Express. This informal group gradually evolved into the New York Associated Press (NYAP), which became a formidable news monopoly in the late nineteenth century. The power of the NYAP was eventually broken by a rival group of Chicago newspaper publishers known as the Western Associated Press. Under their leadership, a new national press cooperative was formed in 1892, known simply as the Associated Press. 

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Title

The Sun

Type

Newspaper

Date

January 8, 1847

Publisher

Moses Yale Beach

Coverage

New York, N.Y.

Format

47-58 cm.

Tags

Citation

“The Sun,” The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, accessed March 30, 2020, https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/items/show/71.