Top 50 Stories: July 26, 1864 - The first edition of the Idaho Statesman

vgowler@idahostatesman.comMay 18, 2014 


    • 18,000 population with 6 square miles per resident

    • 81.2 percent male

    • 52.5 percent foreign-born

    • 27.5 percent of school-age children attending school

    • 11 percent of workforce agricultural - farmers tilled 77,139 acres

    • 55 percent were manufacturing or mining

    • 5.4 percent were trade and transportation

    • 10.7 percent were professionals

Today, we are kicking off our series of Top 50 Stories to celebrate 150 years of producing this newspaper. We asked readers to suggest stories, created a list and vetted it with local historians. We will run one of the stories each day for the next seven weeks. Then our readers will get to choose the Top 10, which will appear in our commemorative special section on our 150th birthday, July 26. We hope you enjoy this look back at our history.

At first glance, I thought our first edition could not be more different than today's newspapers. That first paper in 1864 was only four pages. It was all type, no photos, no color, no graphics. The newspaper published just three times a week. News was not timely - unlike today, when we break news in real time on our digital platforms.

But as I read the stories and advertisements, I realized they weren't all that different from the content in today's newspapers and on our website.

Coverage of government meetings? Several stories on the weather? Details of a distant war? How crops were faring? What food costs? The appeals of everyone from lawyers to boarding house owners to general merchandise shop owners to use their services or buy their products?

Quite familiar.

Weather stories are still popular 150 years later. Government coverage is a mainstay for us and other media companies across the country. We pick up wire coverage of wars in the Middle East and other hot spots across the globe. We recently had a front page story comparing the cost of items in our burgeoning number of grocery stores.

Stories were of all lengths in the first edition, just like today. The minutes of the territorial union convention were reprinted in their entirety. Another lengthy article came from a Sacramento Union story and provided details about a military battle.

The items on the weather, food prices and the size of the oat plants on the Kilburn Brothers' farm, 2 miles above town, were all brief.

I also realized that our efforts to aggregate content today - such as sharing legislative stories from daily newspapers across the state on our politics app this past Legislative session - were exactly what they were doing in 1864. Long before The Associated Press and other wire services existed, newspapers' content was being shared and used in other newspapers.

Of course, there are differences. Sports coverage was hard to find in the early newspapers. In 1864, news appeared when it arrived, as much as two weeks after an event or initial report. Abraham Lincoln's assassination, for example, was reported 11 days after it happened. More news on the comings and goings of individuals in Boise merited write-ups. It was a much smaller town back then. Our first census said the population in the entire state was only 18,000 people.

Another interesting difference was the feuding in print between the editors of different papers in the region. Our first editor and publisher, James S. Reynolds, was clearly comfortable attacking other editors, particularly those of different political persuasions. I think today's editorial writers are more polite and civil to each other. We regularly share editorials between Idaho daily newspapers, without any name-calling.

And Reynolds made clear in his first editorial that he was a Union man, supporting the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, and would never advocate any man for office who was not a Union man. We strive to be more objective today, to print different perspectives, to show both sides of the story. Our endorsements from the Statesman's editorial boards historically have split between the two parties.

What really struck me was how similar our missions were today and 150 years ago: Share news and information. Be useful. Help build community. Put a spotlight on problems and solutions.

I hope you enjoy seeing what was a top story for us - the launch of our newspaper. Enjoy the articles we have reprinted. You can see the entire four-page newspaper online.

Right now, reporters and editors across this newsroom are researching their Top 50 Stories assignments - and enjoying this look back. We spend most of our time focused on what's happening now and what it means moving forward. It's been refreshing to take the time to reflect on history. We hope this series gives you a chance to do the same.


NEED AN ATTORNEY? The first edition had advertisements on the front page — a trend that went away but is back today. Ads were scattered throughout the four pages for a variety of businesses, from boarding houses to blacksmiths.

RAIN OR SHINE ... Full of delightful description, weather reports in the early days almost read like short stories.

FIRST EDITORIAL Publisher and editor James S. Reynolds committed in his first editorial to provide the latest news, touting special delivery arrangements throughout the region. He also talked about securing the best correspondents in neighboring counties to provide quality coverage of local government and politics.

NEWS OF THE WEIRD In the back of Scene, our weekly entertainment section, we run a page of “News of the Weird,” capturing odd crime stories and events around the world. In our first edition, editors picked up a story about a set of Siamese twins and how the twins spent their time and raised their children.

FOOD PRICES MAKE SHOPPING EASY Today, it takes a little more work to find the best prices from all of our different grocery stores, although many of them advertise in the newspaper.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

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