Our news today also concerns ourselves. Here at The Washington Post we're marking the end of our first century of existence as an independent newspaper. Our anniversary represents many things: a lot of history, a lot of newsprint, a lot of ink, a lot of press runs, a lot of deadlines, a lot of labor by a lot of people.
All that forms the grist of daily journalism, for us no more than other publications.
It's said that a newspaper should strive to hold up a mirror to its times, to reflect as well as possible the events, great and small, that distinguish the period. That we have done, not always as well as we would like, nor as accurately and wisely as the perspective of history would judge us.
In the course of our work, we have recorded the joys and sorrows, comdies and tragedies of this last century - the evolution from the machine age to the nuclear, from the rural society to the urban. We have reported wars and revolutions, assassinations and depressions, stunning medical and scientific advances, the exploration of space, the triumph and problems of technology. These, too, are the lifeblood of the news business. As one of our publishers, the late Philip L. Graham, put it, our effort has been to write the "first rough draft of history." Sometimes we have.
But if you turn the mirror around and let society look inward at The Washington Post, you find something else. in its own way, this newspaper has been a reflection of society. We, too, have had our moments of glory - and scandal( of success - and failure; of distinction - and shoddiness.
In his new history of The Post, Chalmers M. Roberts captures those contradictions well.
"For much of its early life The Post's editorials were more powerful than its reporting was exact," he writes. "The paper has spoken timorously, stridently, thundeously. in recent decades The Washington Post has been the powerful voice of liberal American democracy.
"At its founding the paper was bright and saucy, but it grew gray and dull, even outrageous and groveling. At times it was despised within the trade; today the door is jammed with job seekers. In the earlier and in the later decades The Post served the public interest, sometimes at great risk as in the McCarthy and Watergate eras. In short, its journalism has ranged from the obsequious and the sensational to the solidly exemplary."
Today, The Post stands financially secure. Its morning monopoly in the affluent nation's capital gives it one of journalism's soundest economic bases. That was not always the case. There are people working for this paper now who remember when it was bankrupt, and sold at public auction. Only in recent years has The Post become the dominant journalistic property in Washington.
Today, the nature of its audience recalls the words of the British publisher. Lord Northcliffe: "Of all the American newspapers I would prefer to own The Washington Post," he said, "because it reaches the breakfast tables of the members of Congress." Only now, The Post reaches much more than members of Congress, Presidents, Cabinet officers, justices and bureaucrats are among our daily audience.
While we currently enjoy a reputation for being an adversary of governmental - and particularly, presidential - power, our record for independence is not all that pure. Hollywood recently has dramatized our role in relentlessly exposing a presidential cover-up during the Nixon years. in the last such historic instance of presidential abuse during the Harding era, our then publisher Edward B. (Ned McLean, was caught in a lie trying to cover up for a Teapot Dome conspirator. And he was one of the cloest of those presidential crome who brough disgrace on the office.
In short, we begin our second century today feeling neither apologetic nor self congratulatory.
Introspection is not a characteristic of daily journalism. We live by paragraphs and short takes and press runs and sudden bulletins: necessity forces us to be more reactive than reflective. But today, for a moment it's the past to which we look. The experience you'll discover by examining the first issue of our first day a Thursday morning Dec. 6, 1877.
It's not the differences that are surprising it's the similarities. There, boldly stationed atop Page One is the same familiar masthead spelling out in Old English type the title. "The Washington Post."
The essence of the news remains familiar too. Politics, disaster, death, war, weather, gossip, corruption.
In Rome, the Pope was dying "the hands and arms of the Pope are swelling and his prespiration (hand-set type not withstanding, the "typo" was not uncommon laborous lagain), his mind, however, continues clear." In Constantinople, a great war was in progress: "A report has reached here that the Turks have captured Elena, with 5,000 prisoners." In New York, where "What the Gothamites Are Doing" led the page, a number of items were newsworthy: "a rain storm prevailed here all days and a thick fog hangs over the city and rivers . . . This morning notwithstanding the damp and unpleasnat weather, the pension office was crowded by relatives of those who lost their lives in the service of their country." A police captain was dismissed for intoxication and an increase in the suicide rate "appears to be growing stronger." In South Carolina, there was a terrible accidents an itinerant showman running a circus, took off in a "monster ballon," to perform on a trapeze suspended from it. One of the "gazing negroes" became entangled in the ropes, and fell the final 50 feet to earth: "they found him still alive, but terribly bruished, bleeding from the mouth and his hands literally sawed through to the bone."
But the item that strikes the most responsive chord today concerns the workings of polities in Washington.
At the top of the page underneath the dateline was this one-column head: "AT THE CAPITOL"
Immediately beneath in smaller type were the words: "A Day of Rather Small Things."
That story's "lead," as we would call it in the business now began with the delightfully straightforward assessment:
"The Capitol was a rather dull place yesterday."
It went on to report, in similar vein: "The Senate was not in session, the House labored wearily with a number of small matters and the 'dear public' which customarily dances a very generous attendance upon the sessions of either House, seemed to be either in sympathy with the weather or suffering a reaction from the excitement of last week and dozed in scant numbers in the dismal and half empty galleries."
Buried half way down in that column of type was a bit of shameless self-promotion. In reporting that the Democratic caucus had been notified about The Post's birthday, the paper solemnly added these pip-pip words.
"The new Democratic daily was unanimously endorsed and blessed with abundant good wishes."
It was, you see, a party organ - a Democratic paper - in a day of partisan and personal journalism. The owner, and founder, Stilson Hutchins, an imposing man whose loyalties lay with the South during the Civil War, had come to Washington from St. Louis. His purpose was to start a "Democratic daily" newspaper in the nation's capital.
Washington was a half-formed city then, a lusty, bawdy capital of 130,000 luxuriating in the loose public morality of the Reconstruction era.In the 12 years of his ownership, Hutchins' paper prospered. It continued on an even course under new owners, Beriah Wilkins, a Democratic congressman, and Frank Hatton, a former Republican Postmaster General. Then, in 1905, it came into the hands of John R. McLean, owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The McLean stewardship, both father and son, saw the paper slip notably and the collapse.
Our purpose is not to retell our history - good, bad or indifferent - here. That has been done at length by Chalmers Roberts, whose newsroom service dates from 1933. Nor do we intend to recount the history of those times, an effort The Washington Post Magazine will attempt a week from this coming Sunday. But there are other facts worth noting.
A balmy spring day in 1933 - Thursday, June 1, to be precise - marks the beginning of our modern period. There, clustered around the front steps of our fourth home, a noble stone structure at 13th and E Streets, were what we described, in fairly stuffy language, as "important personages of the worlds of finance and journalism (mingling) with the merely curious." Watching the scene from an upstaris window was Evalyn McLean, the notorious Ned's wife.She was wearing the famed Hope diamond on her breast, and her pink-tinted hair contrasted sharply with her black dress.
The Post was broke, and being sold at public auction. Evalyn McLean was one of the bidders. One of our competitors, the old Washington Herald, described the climactic scene this way:
"A pleading note in his businesslike voice the auctioneer exhorted:
"Eight hundred thousand dollars bid. Do I hear 825? I have $800,000. Will you offer 25?"
"Bidding ended at this point, but not until Hartson had again run back to see Mrs. McLean. Impatient at this further delay, Hamilton threatened to withdraw his bid unless the sale was promptly closed.
"Three short words marked the passing of The Post into new hands: '"Going, going, sold.'"
The new owner was Eugene Meyer, a Californian educated at Yale, who had had a spectacular career on Wall Street. By the time he was 40, in 1915, his fortune was said to be in the $50-to-$60 million range. When he bought The Post Meyer was '57 and had just completed 16 years of government service, most recently as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and an ex-office board member of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
From that date Meyer poured his fortune and his energies into The Post. But it wasn't until 21 years later that Meyer and his son-in-law Philip Graham negotiated the move that guaranteed The Post's economic future. On March 17, 1954, St. Patrick's Day, The Post bought out its morning rival. The Washington Times-Herald. The price was $8.5 million, the purchase the most successful in newspaper history. For the Post, it meant a doubling of circulation, a morning monopoly and within five years the overtaking of the traditional advertising leader in Washington, The Star.
Since then, The Post has continued to grow in professional reputation and to solidify its economic position. The same family guides its fortune (Katherine Graham, Eugene Meyer's dughter, serves as publisher and her son, Donald E. Grahamas general manager.) But the name no longer stands only for the newspaper: a parent company, The Washington Post Co., also owns Newsweek magazine, The Trenton (N.J.) Times, four television stations and a part interest in the International Herald-Tribune published in Paris, among other concerns. Together with the Los Angeles Times, the company operates a joint news service, reaching papers around the world.
That's a long way from the days when Post reporters set out from their first building on Pennsylvania Avenue by foot, bike and horse-drawn streetcar to gather news for that first edition 100 years ago.
They didn't get it all, either, and probably not all of what they got was right. But, their longhand compositions aside, they were doing just about what we're attempting. Rushing to meet deadline - for today, not yesterday or tomorrow. CAPTION: Picture 1, no caption; picture 2, The first issue of The Washington Post came off the press Dec. 6, 1877; Picture 3, Founder Stilson Hutchins had arrived that summer to put into execution a plan he long had cherished - to found "a Democratic daily" newspaper in the nation's capital. It was the end of Reconstruction, with the bitterly contested 1876 presidential election between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes settled only two days before the inauguration. In January, 1889, Hutchins sold The Post to Beriah Wilkins, a Democratic congressman from Ohio, and Frank Hatton, a former Republican Postmaster General. Hatton died in 1894 and Wilkins in 1903. Wilkins' heirs, in 1905, sold control to John R. Mclean, the owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Melean died in 1916, and control passed to the less-than-responsible hands of his son, Edward B. (Ned) Mclean. The paper lost circulation, advertising, and, most important, respect, finally falling into bankruptcy. On June 1, 1933. The Post was sold at auction on the steps of the E Street building for $825,000. Not until 12 days later was the name of the new owner announced - Eugene Meyer. In June, 1946, Philip L Graham, Meyer's son-in-law, stepped up from assistant publisher to publisher of The Post. Graham led the paper through a period of expansion, culminating in 1954, when The Post bought out its morning rival, the Times Herald, for $8,500,000; Picture 4, Philip Graham and Eugene Meyer, wearing pressman's paper hat, with the first edition of the combined Washington Post and Times Herald . Philip Graham's dynamic leadership ended with his suicide in 1963.; Picture 5, Katharine Graham, Philip Graham's widow and daughter of Eugene Meyer, took over control and management of the paper. Her son, Donald E. Graham, who joined the company in 1971, is now The Post's general manager. Today, The Washington Post Co, also owns Newsweek magazine, the Trenton (N.J.) Times, four television stations and a part interest in the International Herald Tribune published in Paris. The Post also shares a news service with the Los Angeles Times.; Picture 6, The Post has occupied six homes since 1877. The first was a building at 914 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, once occupied by the old Washington Chronicle. Within a year The Post outgrew those quarters and took over the home of the National Union (which The Post absorbed) at 330 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. In 1880, The Post moved into its own handsome building at the corner of 10th and D Sts. NW, adding additions in 1882 and 1883. That building was destroyed by fire in July, 1885, but The Post was able to publish, thanks to the generosity of the Evening star, which offered the use of its presses. By August, The Post was back home in its own enlarged five storey builading. (In 1966 this third Post home fell to the wrecker's ball to make room for the new FBI building.); Picture 7, The fourth building, home for 57 years, opened in 1893, a Gothie Romanesque structure at 1339 E St. NW. (In 1954 it was razed for a parking lot.) In November, 1950, The Post moved uptown to 1515 L St. NW. On Oct. 16, 1972, The Post opened its current home around the corner at 1150 15th St. NW (ahove), incorporating the L Street building.; Picture 8, Initially The Post was printed from type set by hand, letter by letter. But in January, 1883, Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German-born inventor, unveiled a long-dreamed-of typesetting machine in his Baltimore workshop, with Post publisher Hutchins among the dozen interested spectators. The printer, instead of composing a line of type by picking up individual letters, sat at a keyboard and arranged type matrices in a line, automatically adjusting to the correct length. A solid lead slug (hot type) then was cast and the matrics returned for future use. Ten years later, in 1893, when the paper moved into its new E Street building, 10 Mergenthaler linotype machines were installed, (a linotype machine in The Post's current 15th Street lobby.) Linotypes have endured into the 1970s, when the cold type process, with type set by a computer, began to replace them. At first, reporters wrote their stories in longhand. The newspaper was printed first on one side, the the other.; Picture 9, In March, 1879 The Post installed its first R. Hoe & Co lithographic press enabling the paper to be printed on both sides at the same time. In November, 1879, The Post obtained a new six-cylinder press, giving it the unprecedented capacity of 10,000 copies an hour. Ninety-eight years later, this is how far printing has come at The Post: Dispatches from news services and bureaus all over the world are received in the complex Communications Center in The Post building. Some 200,000 words per day are set in type in the composing room.; Picture 10, A similar number are processed each day in the News/Editorial department.; Picture 11, The two newest Goss Mark II presses which cost about $2.5 million each, are each capable of printing, cutting and folding 65,000 newspapers per hour at maximum speed. Each of the new presses can print 128 pages at once.