You are now reading this week’s Historical Treasure, yes, the newspaper. Today, having a newspaper readily available is something we tend to take for granted. In the past, printed material was rare or too expensive for the general public. Then movable type was invented.

Movable type was developed by Bi Sheng of China around 1041-1048, in conjunction with the invention of the printing press. There are no surviving examples of this early work and the method was discarded. (FYI, the oldest surviving printed book is of the writings of Buddha, the Diamond Sutra, A.D. 868) The Western World has Johannes Gutenberg to thank for our version of movable type. He improved the method and made printing more practical. Around 1454, he printed 180 copies of his now-famous Gutenberg Bible. He is considered the most famous printer of all time.

With improvements in printing and a better-educated public, the Town Crier began to be replaced by newspapers. The world’s oldest surviving daily newspaper is the “Wiener Zeitung” of Austria, first issued in 1703. The first newspaper printed in America was “Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick” from Boston. Printed by Richard Pierre and edited by Benjamin Harris on Sept. 25, 1690, only one issue was ever put out. An outraged administration claimed it contained “reflections of a very high order.” It was printed without authority and warned against future publication of any kind without license from the government. (Remember, this is before the First Amendment of the Constitution, granting us freedom of the press).

On the home front, Terre Haute has a rich history of the journalist’s art; some have succeeded and others failed. John W. Osborn published the first newspaper in Vigo County, “The Western Register and Terre Haute Advertiser.” Its first issue ran from July to October 1823. The issue pictured is dated Monday, July 21, 1823. Newspapers of that time were published every two weeks or so. Foreign news items were clipped from other sources, and if the mail didn’t arrive on time, sermons or speeches from Congress were used. I found the editorials “From the Desk of Poor Peto the Scribe” most interesting. Topics are so current. The paper dated Aug. 20, 1825, covered poverty at home, a fair and honest foreign trade policy, and helping everyone, not just the few. The more things change, the more things do stay the same.

Very few prices are mentioned in the advertisement section. The barter system still prevailed, for instance, “a good clock, $34.00 cash or part good whiskey.” In 1830, the “Advertiser” part of the name was dropped and the paper became simply “The Western Register,” in 1832 it merged with “The Wabash Courier.”

Most early newspapers were allied with a political party and openly espoused the party line. In 1872, a three-cornered fight broke out among R. N. Hudson of “The Gazette” (Republican), C. J. Smith of the “Saturday Evening Mail” (Independent), and J.B. Edmunds of the “Daily Express” (Republican), when Smith opposed the party line. In an ugly war of words, Smith was frequently dubbed the “assistant Democrat.” The “Indianapolis Journal,” the state Republican paper, stepped in and formally read “The Gazette” out of the party. Hudson responded, “As for our self, as Editor of ‘The Terre Haute Gazette’ we do not propose to ask ‘The Indianapolis Journal’ or any other journal how we shall think or how we shall write …”

The Daily Express was the predecessor of today’s “Tribune/Star.” First issued on Monday, May 12, 1851, not an issue was missed unless it was on holiday to give recreation to its employees. Succeeded by “The Morning Star” in 1903, (just “The Star” after 1908), a combined Sunday edition was put out with another paper, “The Tribune” (1894). These two newspapers merged, and on May 16, 1983, volume 1, number 1 of our present-day “Tribune-Star” was issued. Today’s “Trib” is part of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., with David Thornberry, publisher, and Max C. Jones, editor. Current circulation is 27,000 daily papers and 32,000 Sunday editions.

Before you throw it in the trash, run it through the shredder, or put it down for the puppy, take a moment and think about what you’re holding in your hands. An objective, free press gives voice and empowerment to people who otherwise might have none. America would be a much poorer place without it. The past is fascinating! Your Historical Society has a fine collection of early newspaper editions; also, check the microfilm department of the Vigo County Public Library. You’ll be glad you did.

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