Six Things You May Not Know About 19th Century Newspapers and a Give Away!

Hi! Amanda Cabot here. For me, one of the more enjoyable aspects of writing historical fiction is doing the research. I never fail to find at least one tidbit that intrigues me enough to include it in the book. As someone who once aspired to be a newspaper reporter, I had fun researching nineteenth century newspapers while I created a hero who owns a paper. That’s why I thought I’d share six things that might (or maybe won’t) surprise you about newspapers and printing in the mid-nineteenth century.

1. Importance – With the increase of literacy in the US, you’d think people would have had a large supply of things to read. That wasn’t always the case, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas. For them, newspapers were often the only things they had to read besides the Bible. As a result, papers included more than news. It wasn’t unusual to find poems, stories, and recipes in addition to what we would call news.

2. Prices – How much did all this cost the average subscriber? According to my research, an annual subscription to a weekly paper was $5, an amount that was often paid in goods rather than cash. I hope the editor enjoyed hams and jams as well as turnips and apples.

Advertisements frequently had a tiered cost, being priced at $1 for the first time they were run with subsequent weeks at $.50. To put this in perspective, a doctor’s office visit was also $1. Suppose you were running for office and wanted the paper to announce your candidacy. You might think that would be a simple ad at a cost of a dollar. Not so. Political announcements were priced at $10.

3. Revenue – In many cases, subscriptions and ads weren’t enough to support the newspaperman. That’s why he (and, yes, most of them were men) offered personal printing services, providing cards, posters, and stationery to residents.

4. Town Booming – This was a new term for me, but it underscored the power of the press. When towns were first established and sought new residents, they relied on papers to promote the town – sometimes through gross exaggeration – in an effort to attract settlers. One of the first towns to benefit from this practice was Oregon City in 1846 which relied on the Oregon Spectator to tout its attractions to potential residents.

5. Skullduggery – One of the more popular printing presses during the nineteenth century was the Washington Hand Press. Unlike previous presses, it was made of iron rather than wood, making it sturdy. Even more importantly, it could be easily assembled and disassembled – a real plus in the rapidly expanding American West.

For years, Samuel Rust held the patent on the Washington press and refused to sell it to his competitor, P. Hoe and Company. Hoe, however, was determined to obtain the patent and convinced one of his employees to pose as an inventor who wanted to expand on Rust’s design. Rust agreed to sell him the patent, not knowing that it was all a ruse and that the faux inventor would immediately turn the patent over to his boss.

6. Dangers – While the underhanded techniques that robbed Rust of his patent were unfortunate, they weren’t the only danger involved in the newspaper printing business. Sadly, not everything printed in newspapers was true. Many editors, following the practice of their Eastern colleagues, made little distinction between news and opinion. In some cases, diatribes and personal attacks made their way onto the printed page. You can imagine how those were received. Who would have thought that freedom of the press sometimes resulted in death?

Did any of these surprise you? More importantly, did any intrigue you enough to want to explore the world of nineteenth century newspapers? I’ll pick two people from the comments to receive a print copy of Dreams Rekindled (U.S. addresses only.) 

Giveaway Rules Apply: 

If you’d like more information, my primary sources for this post were Red Blood and Black Ink by David Dary and Passionate Nation by James L. Haley.

About the book:

He’s bound and determined to find peace . . . but she’s about to stir things up

Dorothy Clark dreams of writing something that will challenge people as much as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin seems to have. But in 1850s Mesquite Springs, there are few opportunities for writers—until newspaperman Brandon Holloway arrives, that is.

Brandon Holloway has seen firsthand the disastrous effects of challenging others. He has no intention of repeating that mistake. Instead of following his dreams, he’s committed to making a new—and completely uncontroversial—start in the Hill Country.

As Dorothy’s involvement in the fledgling newspaper grows from convenient to essential, the same change seems to be happening in Brandon’s heart. But before romance can bloom, Dorothy and Brandon must work together to discover who’s determined to divide the town and destroy Brandon’s livelihood.


Amanda Cabot’s dream of selling a book before her thirtieth birthday came true, and she’s now the author of more than thirty-five novels as well as eight novellas, four non-fiction books, and what she describes as enough technical articles to cure insomnia in a medium-sized city. Her inspirational romances have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists, have garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and have been nominated for the ACFW Carol, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers Best awards. A popular workshop presenter, Amanda takes pleasure in helping other writers achieve their dreams of publication.

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63 thoughts on “Six Things You May Not Know About 19th Century Newspapers and a Give Away!”

  1. I love to look at old newspapers, especially the price of things from long ago. Also the stories that were printed, they had to be selective I’m sure, the price to print was expense. Thanks for sharing this wonderful history of newspapers with us. There were many things I did not know about before reading this blog.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As I said at the beginning, I found the research fascinating.

  2. Interesting how people would read newspapers that were weeks or months old to catch up on events. I can imagine how they anticipated the latest news.

    • Imagine how they must have felt to have read about a significant event — the end of a war or something similar — and realize it happened weeks before.

    • So many things have changed in 150 years, but the desire to know what’s happening in the world hasn’t.

  3. Good morning and thanks for stopping by! I can only imagine how hard it was to keep a newspaper up and running back then. I mean there was ink and paper to buy. Repair parts etc. I guess some trading had to into that too. Heck someone had to have been relatively weathly to even go West and start a paper because of the cost of the printing press. It definitely had to be your passion to delve into this business! Very interesting blog & yes a lot of it surprised me. It would have definitely been putting your life into your own hands for things other than facts to be put into articles back then. A giveaway is an awesome way to find a new author to add to my go to authors list! Stay safe!

    • The printing press was a major investment, but — as you said — there were all the other costs involved in producing a paper. Type wore out and had to be replaced. Fortunately, the presses themselves were quite sturdy.

  4. A fascinating post which interests me greatly. The background and history about newspapers is extremely interesting. I enjoy reading old newspapers for the articles and ads.

    • When you’ve read old newspapers, did you notice any articles that seemed slanted to the author’s personal views?

  5. Newspapers provided us with vital information and were read avidly. Now they are o longer relevant. What a change it is. I enjoy this extraordinar,y informative post.

  6. I have always loved newspapers and, for most of my life, had the privilege of getting one through the mail every day. Increasing print costs and fewer editions prompted me to cancel our subscription and now, our news comes from television newscasts and online reading. You mentioned that news and opinion were often hard to distinguish and I’m afraid that this still exists. Our news may not always be accurate, either! Thanks for an intriguing post and for your giveaway.

    • Your points are unfortunately true. I wish all news were factual and unbiased, but we know it isn’t.

  7. In the olden days we looked forward to receiving our paper and reading it from cover to cover daily. I remember when I was away briefly my mother saved all the newspapers so that I could read them when I returned. Now that was something. I guess I felt it was very important to know what happened when I was away.

  8. Welcome. A fascinating post today. Unfortunately deceit and underhand motives are still going on. My dad used to read the newspaper from front to back, minus the funnies. Mom was only interested in the funnies. She had five kids. I am not sure why, but we get a Sunday paper. We don’t pay for it and none of the neighbors have payed for one. My husband will brief through the paper, but not really read it. So much of it is lies or half truths. But I do save the funnies after I have read them, so our son can read them when he comes over. I will be honest I use the paper when my husband is done for crafts. To cover the tables. And for packing. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    • Reusing the paper for crafts is a great idea. The only problem I see with that is that the ink bleeds. That’s why I recycle rather than reuse mine.

  9. Very intesting blog,, learned a few new things today..
    My parents always received a daily paper, that my dad had to read first, then my mom would go through it. Then it would go into a bag for recycling. They also received the local paper from where they grew up to stay up with the news of who they knew. This paper came from a very small town, where everyone knows everyone. And if you live there, you don’t need the paper to tell you anything. I am times miss the paper, but not enough to pay so much for it.

    • I think part of the appeal of local news, even in a small town, is that people like seeing their names in print.

  10. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post. I was amazed that the presses could be assembled and reassembled relatively easy.

    • Melanie — I thought I was responding to your comment, but somehow it showed up separately. Sorry.

  11. Not all of them were that easily assembled, but the Washington Hand Press, which is the one I feature in Dreams Rekindled, was designed for easy transport and assembly.

    • Amanda, this press was probably the kind that followed the building of the Transcontinental Railway in the tent city that moved as the tracks were laid. They must’ve had moving down to a science. I can’t imagine.

  12. Amanda, welcome back to P&P! It’s always great to see you. The newspaper business has always intrigued me. Those editors had to love what they did because it was no easy task. I love reading old news from a hundred or so years ago and find the content so funny. Some told how many chickens a certain farmer had or something new they’d bought. What is really funny is telling about the visitors who came to see family. It’s hilarious. I own a book that contains newspaper articles from Tombstone, Arizona during the time Wyatt Earp lived there and had the shootout at the OK Corral. It’s so interesting. There’s also the articles from the subsequent trial. This book is one of my greatest treasures. Wishing you tons of success with your new book. 🙂

    • Linda — Thanks for the welcome. I ALWAYS enjoy my visits to P&P. I have to admit that I chuckled when I read your comment about the paper mentioning who visited whom. The personals section of papers was one of the most popular, a fact that I incorporated into Dreams Rekindled.

  13. Thank You for sharing this I Love reading about the old newspaper business! And I Love the cover of the book! Sounds like a great book I would love to read! Thank you for the chance to win this book!

    • Isn’t it a beautiful cover? I’ve gotten SO many compliments on it and wish I could take credit for it, but it’s all due to Revell’s wonderful Art Department.

  14. This is so very , very interesting, Thank you so much for sharing this, I didn’t know a couple of things about it, but now I know, Thank you! Your book sounds like a great read and I love your book cover. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

  15. What a interesting post! I have an entire book on newspapers in the old west but have really cracked it open. Now I’ll have to! Thanks for sharing with us!

  16. I am still a newspaper fan and thankfully we still have individual papers for local towns in our area to catch the news. Thanks for the informative and fascinating post.

    • You are fortunate. I know a lot of papers have either been discontinued or rely heavily on syndicated news rather than including local reporting.

  17. Love the history lesson! I’ve always enjoyed reading old archived newspapers, though my hometown only goes back to early 1900s. Great info!

    • Wyoming’s papers have been digitized from the beginning, although some of them are very difficult to read. Still, it was fun to see what was advertised and what news was considered important.

  18. This reminds me of my grandpa and his newspapers. Each day they would end up stretched out all over the kitchen. He claimed you could tell a lot about a person by which part of the paper they read first. As a kid, I told him the comics, and he just laughed.

    He held sports readers in derision – they were shallow. The want ads were for those seeking or needing opportunity. The stock reports told him they were wealthy. The word puzzles were for those bored or underachieving. The obits were for the aged (he called them the morbid.) He used to claim they were reading to see if their names had been falsely added.

    The news was for the curious, but the political columns were for the thinker. He took pride in noting that’s what he read first. Back then I thought, “How boring. I’m staying with the comics.” Today I still check them out first… and I bet he would still laugh.

    • What a fascinating view of people! My mother-in-law would dispute the part about word puzzles, though. She used them to keep her mind active and was neither bored nor underachieving. Back in the era when the dangers of smoking became well-known, my father used to call the obits the list of people who stopped smoking.

  19. The 19th century in American history is my favorite time period. I am a die-hard western fan. I have read many books and watched numerous TV shows and movies that take place during that time era. Plus visiting historic sights and museums.
    Most of your information I know in general, but not all the details. I did not know about the patent on the printing press.
    I think you do an amazing job intertwining interesting historical facts into your stories.

    • One of the best parts about writing historical fiction is being able to include tidbits of information readers may not have known. Those details add to the feeling of authenticity — at least in my opinion.

  20. I cannot say that any of your information surprises me. There have been some of the information shown in television shows through out the years. It does not make it right to have a patent taken under false pretenses nor to tell misconceptions about people in newspapers. If we look at the world today, we can say that things have not changed. Thank you for sharing your research.

  21. I rarely even see a newspaper anymore!

    I’m a bit surprised to hear, that even back then you had to struggle with what was fact and what was just opinion.

  22. Amanda, Thank you for an interesting post. I love doing research. So many interesting and unexpected things come up. You found some nice tidbits in your research. I find it interesting that towns put exaggerated ads in papers to promote their growth. It is a practice that still exists today in one form or another. Same with the misleading articles that either bend the facts or falsify things completely. A practice that is in full form today. I think what was most surprising was how much more expensive political ads were than others. Pretty smart. It would help keep down negative ads and keep people from being deluged with political ads.
    I hope you are enjoying Spring and the bad weather stays far from you.

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