People like to say that the daily newspaper is dying, but, as you pass a newsstand and glance at a headline, do not take those tabloids for granted. We pause here to wish the New York Daily News a happy birthday on its centennial. The Illustrated Daily News first appeared on the morning of June 26, 1919 as New York was adjusting to its post-World War I life and getting ready for Prohibition. Passersby would have seen the News displayed with—depending on who’s counting—about fifteen other general interest daily newspapers, and this is not even considering the many weekly, ethnic, and foreign-language news outlets.
The Daily News (“New York” was never part of its masthead title) that now calls itself “New York’s Hometown Newspaper” had, ironically, its roots in London and Chicago. It was a transplant of the Chicago Tribune, whose publishers were inspired by the success of the Daily Mirror in England. For its first few years, the Daily News was managed from Chicago by Joseph Medill Patterson, but the paper’s local man on the ground, William Henry Field, wasted little time in putting a gritty New York flavor on its sixteen pages. Its serious mission was described here on the first day, but the editors discovered that engaging readers in contests proved to be an instrumental way of boosting circulation. In late November 1919 the paper began asking contestants to complete a fifth line of a limerick; a winning entry netted $100.
The New-York Historical Society’s collection of the Daily News is the strongest for these early years, so we mark the occasion of the paper’s centennial by observing how this experimental tabloid became an institution, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country and the virtual pioneer of the user-friendly, tabloid-sized paper.
In those first years, young artist Reginald Marsh was contracted to enliven the editorial and theater pages with drawings, and readers could take in installments of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction. Paul Gallico added a quirky, literary bent to his columns while admitting his ignorance about his assigned beat, sports.
To be sure, The News would become known for its photographs, but not without overcoming obstacles: The parent Chicago Tribune was slow in providing resources such as quality paper, ink, and dark rooms where the photographers did their own developing and printing. The early photos could not always keep up with the headlines, but when the paper’s first camera man, Eddie Jackson, happened to be at Wall Street at noon just as a lethal bomb devastated the area on September 16, 1920, he could produce this striking front page image.
The paper would also excel at sports photography, but its “back page” took a while to resemble what we have come to love today. Here we see the 1923 opening of the new Yankee Stadium without a picture of Babe Ruth’s home run.
Overlooked perhaps is the way the newspaper sponsored what would, decades later, become another New York institution: a marathon. Paced as 115 laps within the confines of the new Yankee Stadium, the event was meant as a run-up to the 1924 Paris Olympics. The winner among its fifty-two entrants, A. M. “Whitey” Michaelson of Port Chester, continued to excel in marathon events.
When a mild earth tremor was felt in New York on February 28, 1925, The News responded with this impish front page illustration of what could happen to the city in the event of a major quake.
The present publishers of the Daily News provide some reminders of their other memorable front pages over the century. We salute the paper for enlivening and informing us and making it easy for subway and bus riders to absorb the news throughout the century. No doubt there is irony in watching their contemporary counterparts do all their reading on phones and tablets, but today we are here to praise the forerunners, the paper newspapers, not bury them.
[The News: The First Fifty Years of New York’s Picture Newspaper by Leo E. McGivena and other staff writers (1969) informs much of this blog post. The New York Public Library holds a full run of the Daily News on microfilm. And the paid subscription site Newspapers.com, which may be accessible at large public and university libraries, includes complete, digitized issues of the Daily News from 1919 through 2009.]
This post is by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.