Reflections on the Press of the Young Republic
Between 1783 and 1833, the American press grew and developed from the small operations of the colonial period to the large-scale productions of the penny press era. During this fifty-year period, the American press experienced a series of events that produced developments totally unforeseen by those who had first started newspapers in the British colonies in the early 1700s.
The most obvious changes were physical in nature. During these fifty years, the American population had grown, so some increase in the press was to be expected. However, the growth outstripped the population increase. The growth in literacy provided one obvious reason for such development, but that is not enough. During the early decades of the nineteenth century, reading a newspaper or magazine became an essential part of everyday life for many people. More than ever before, and possibly as much as at any time in United States history, the press sold itself to the American reading public as a necessity of personal existence. The result was a mushrooming in the number of publications.
The growth in numbers is impressive, for in 1783 there were just thirty-five newspapers published in the United States. By 1833, the number had grown to over 1,200. In 1783, the American press primarily hugged the Atlantic coastal area and consisted primarily of weekly news sheets, "miscellanies" that tried to keep subscribers informed of world events, but also to publish a little bit of everything, such as poetry, essays, and book excerpts. By 1833, the press stretched to the Great Plains, and publication schedules ranged from daily newspapers to monthly magazines. Also by then, content had become more specialized. Most newspapers continued to seek to inform readers of news events, but the emphasis had shifted from foreign to domestic news. Magazines had begun to carry out the role of providing materials primarily designed to entertain and enlighten such as poetry and essays. Magazines had also started specializing in order to attract a par-