A Distinguished History of Journalism Here since 1786

By Barcousky, Len | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Distinguished History of Journalism Here since 1786


Barcousky, Len, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When the first printing press arrived at the frontier village next to Fort Pitt in the late autumn of 1785, it was "a puny contrivance."

That was how J. Cutler Andrews described the "small wooden hand machine" in his 1936 history of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Printers John Scull and Joseph Hall soon were using the secondhand English common press to turn out advertising fliers, blank business invoices, legal forms and books.

Then on July 29, 1786, the partners published the initial issue of the Pittsburgh Gazette, the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies. Their office stood near what is now the corner of Market Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.

Now, 228 years later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is being published at a state-of-the-art printing facility in Clinton. While the newspaper continues to be edited in Downtown Pittsburgh, it marks the first time in more than two centuries that the newspaper is not being printed somewhere in the Golden Triangle. During that same period the newspaper has gone through a dozen name changes and multiple owners.

Hall, sadly, died within months of the Gazette's founding. His successor as Scull's partner, Philadelphian John Boyd, even more sadly, hanged himself, "without disclosing his reasons," according to Andrews' book, "Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette."

Boyd's death might have had something to do with the problems of putting out a publication on the Pennsylvania frontier where "paper and printing materials had to be brought over the mountains on pack horses." When paper was in short supply, copies of the Gazette were published on sheets of writing paper and even on "cartridge paper of inferior quality" borrowed from the commandant of Fort Pitt.

With the rise of political parties in the young United States, Federalist John Scull, the editor and publisher of the Pittsburgh Gazette, soon found himself facing journalism rivals. The year 1800 saw the first issue of the Tree of Liberty newspaper. It was soon followed by the Commonwealth and the Mercury. All three supported Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party.

Scull, who served as editor and publisher for 30 years, was succeeded by his son, John Irwin, who briefly turned the paper into a semi-weekly in 1816. The frontier publication went through several ownership and name changes in the 1820s but always retained at its root the word "Gazette."

In 1829, the new editor, Neville B. Craig, ordered a technological wonder: a new imperial size, one-pull press that could handle larger sheets of paper. According to Andrews' book, the new, more efficient machine "created a great sensation among the populace when it arrived from Philadelphia."

Now that he had a modern press, editor Craig announced in 1831 that he planned to convert the Gazette into a daily newspaper. Longtime Post-Gazette editor Clarke M. Thomas wrote that it took months of "stop-and-go preparations" before daily publication began on July 30, 1833. Mr. Thomas was the author of a 2005 history of the newspaper: "Front-Page Pittsburgh: Two Hundred Years of the Post- Gazette."

Craig and his successor, David N. "Deacon" White, continued to make other technological and news-gathering advances.

"An evidence of increasing interest in the conduct of the government at Washington, D.C., was the employment in 1837 of a Washington correspondent, 'Junius' to retail political gossips from the capitol in the form of random letters," Andrews wrote. And in 1842, with "an eye to what was going on in Harrisburg, the paper dispatched a reporter there, too."

In 1845 White decided to replace Craig's hand-powered press with "a handsome one-cylinder Napier steam press built to order in New York at a cost of nearly two thousand dollars," Andrews wrote. Its modern value, as a capital project, would be close to $1 million, based on formulas developed by economists Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. …

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