Our Iowa Heritage: Iowa Newspapers – The Early Years.

There’s an expression historians use when describing the great American expansion of the mid-19th century into Iowa…

The press followed the plow.

Statistics show, for example, that between 1836 and 1860, 222 newspapers sprung up across the Hawkeye State, with most of them being small town weeklies!

But, like it is with most small businesses, it’s one thing to open a business, but quite another keeping it going. The 1860 Iowa census reveals that only 104 of those 222 newspapers (less than half) were still being published, meaning 118 of those startups crashed and burned. Ouch!

Quite honestly, it took a lot of time, energy, resources, and a good deal of political maneuvering to keep a small-town newspaper going. Historian William J. Peterson gives us this overview…

The changing political complexion of the state, the over zealous ambitions of young editors, the scattered population, the uncertainty of mail delivery, the small amount of advertising, the high subscription rates coupled with the failure of patrons to pay subscriptions, and the intense competition, all combined to cause such heavy casualties.

This article comes from The Goldfinch – a teacher’s resource guide in the 1990s.

Dubuque – Iowa’s first city – Iowa’s first newspaper.

One such adventurous man, was John King, the founder of Iowa’s first newspaper, The Du Buque Visitor.

King arrived in Dubuque, from Ohio, in 1833, the same year the city was incorporated, partnering with Alexander George in a lead mining business known as the Bee Branch. Over time, both men became invested in the growth and success of Dubuque and actively worked to improve life in the community. To this end, King left the mining business to establish a newspaper, which he thought would unify the region and attract new residents and businesses.

In 1822, Peter Smith, an American, connected with the firm of R. Hoe & Co. in New York, devised a printing press made of cast-iron, and in place of the screw with levers, he substituted a toggle joint. Modern for its time, the Smith Patented Improved Press greatly simplified the printing process and allowed the pressman to make an impression with one pull of a lever.

In the early spring of 1836, King traveled back to Cincinnati, purchasing a Smith Hand Press (see above) and all the necessary type, paper, ink and other supplies, having it all shipped by riverboat back to Dubuque. King then recruited William Jones, an experienced printer from Ohio, and Andrew Keesecker, a printing assistant and editorial writer from nearby Galena, Illinois, to join him in his new Dubuque office.

The Du Buque Visitor – Iowa’s First Newspaper – May 11, 1836.

On Wednesday, May 11, 1836, King and his team published Iowa’s first weekly paper – The Du Buque Visitor. In the Visitor’s prospectus, King wrote…

We confidently assure the public, that our paper shall not be diverted under any consideration, from an impartial, independent, and honorable course, either to puff or traduce any individual; but shall be faithfully devoted to the general paramount interests of the community in which it is to circulate. Its columns will be open to all political essays, if penned in the spirit of free inquiry.

The first newspaper in Iowa was issued at Dubuque on May 11, 1836. This pioneer paper was edited by John King and named the DuBuque Visitor. Its folio line read, “Truth our Guide. The Public Good Our Aim”. The pages measured twenty by twenty-six inches in size, and each of the four pages carried six columns. Although only a weekly newspaper the subscription rate of the Visitor was three dollars a year in advance or four dollars if paid at the end of the year. In the prospectus the editors promised to “cherish and advocate republican principles” and “encourage and foster such measures as will perpetuate our happy form of Government, and promote the best interests of the community”. Foreign and domestic news would be printed and contributions were invited upon “moral, literary, and scientific subjects”. William J. Peterson

Sadly, King’s high ideals were dealt a severe blow when political differences soon developed between King and William Jones, resulting in the running of an ad seeking “any journeyman printer of good moral habits” to replace Jones. Not long after, the political opinions King was promoting began to draw complaints from subscribers, and by the end of the year, financial difficulties led King to sell the paper to William C. Chapman. The latter was a strongly partisan voice in support of Andrew Jackson, and often at odds with subscribers and the general political climate of the community.

Chapman’s tenure at the paper was short lived, and he soon sold the business to William H. Turner. Turner saw the paper through the completion of its first year, returning to the principles and intent of King’s original prospectus. King returned to The Visitor in 1837, partnering with William W. Coriell and John B. Russell to purchase it from Turner and changing the name to The Iowa News. In 1841, The News evolved into The Miners Express, which in turn merged with The Dubuque Herald in 1854, ceasing production as The Dubuque Herald/Telegraph in 1901.

The First Newspapers in Iowa – Rolling Down the River.

And, so it went with so many of the early newspapers of Iowa. Yet, despite the many problems, the papers just kept coming. Over the next several years (1836-1840), five additional Iowa cities, all located on the Mississippi River, came on-line with their own weekly newspapers…

#2-June 28, 1837 – Montrose, Iowa – The Western Adventurer and Herald of the Upper Mississippi – Dr. Isaac Gallard, publisher. Ceased publication in 1838.

#3-July 10, 1837 – Burlington, Iowa – The Wisconsin Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser – James Clarke, publisher. In 1837, evolved into the Iowa Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser and ceased publication in 1846. A revised Gazette returned in the late 19th century, merging with The Burlington Hawk-eye in the early 1930’s.

#4-March 28, 1838 – Ft.Madison, Iowa – The Ft. Madison Patriot – James G. Edwards, publisher. In June of 1839, Edwards relocated to Burlington to bring some head-to-head competition to Clarke – renaming his paper, in the fall of 1839 – The Burlington Hawk-eye. Click here to read more about that story. Today, The Hawk-eye is still in publication, billing itself as “Iowa’s oldest newspaper.”

#5-August 4, 1838 – Davenport, Iowa – The Iowa Sun and Davenport and Rock Island News – Andrew Logan, publisher. Became The Iowa Sun in 1840, The Davenport Iowa Sun in 1841, finally ceasing publication in 1842.

#6-October 23, 1840 – Bloomington (Muscatine), Iowa – The Iowa Standard – William Crum, publisher. Four days later The Bloomington Herald began production – Thomas Hughes, publisher. Click here to read about these two newspapermen. Crum moved The Standard to Iowa City in 1841, renaming it The Iowa City Standard (more on that below). Hughes relocated to Iowa City as well (1841) but The Bloomington Herald remained until 1849, when it became The Muscatine Journal, which ceased publication in 1890.

Two Newspaper Men with an Eye (Hawk-eye) on Iowa City.

In an earlier post we introduced you to Thomas Hughes and William Crum, two hard-nosed newspaper competitors during the earliest days of newspapers in Iowa. Crum, who teamed up with W.D. Bailey from Bloomington, is credited with starting Iowa City’s first newspaper, The Iowa City Standard, publishing his first edition on June 10, 1841. Hughes was quick to follow, teaming with V.P. Van Antwerp, to roll out The Iowa Capitol Reporter six months later, on December 4, 1841. Click here to read more about these two men.

We must also mention that Crum and Thomas weren’t the only two newspaper men trying to compete for this growing Iowa City market. For a short time in 1841, a third option existed, The Iowa City Argus. So, within one year, Iowa City went from zero newspapers to three. While Jackson’s Iowa City Argus didn’t make it (closing up shop in 1842), both Crum and Hughes successfully brought two reading options to the good citizens of Iowa City, both of which had a long history serving our community and to some degree, while their names are long gone, both newspapers did play a part in those other publications that followed.

Iowa City Newspapers 1841 – Present…

As we close, allow us to give you a brief synopsis of Iowa City newspapers over the last 175 years…

1841 – The Iowa City Standard – Motto: “Impartially devoted to the dissemination of truth and popular intelligence.” Renamed The Iowa Standard in 1842, becoming The Iowa (City) Republican in 1848. For one year (1920-21), became The Iowa Farm Republic, returning as The Republican in 1922, then The Johnson County News before ceasing publication in 1923.

1841 – The Iowa City Argus – Motto: “Universal equality of right, and sovereignty of the people’s will.” Ceased publication in 1842.

1841 – The Iowa Capitol Reporter – Motto: “He is a free man whom the truth makes free.” Became The Weekly (Iowa) State Reporter in 1857, ceasing production in 1861.


Other Iowa City Papers Worthy of Mention…

While there have been other short-term newspapers in Johnson County’s history, we will mention only these additional papers:

1860 – The Iowa State Press – a Democratic paper formed at the same time The Capitol Reporter was coming to a close. John P. Irish was the long-time editor, and the paper evolved into The Iowa City Daily Press (1904-1920).

1891 – The Iowa Citizen – a Republication paper competing with The Iowa City Republican, became the Iowa City Citizen in 1907.

1920 The Iowa City Press-Citizen was a result of a merger between the two papers mentioned above, and remains as Iowa City’s primary newspaper today.

The Daily Iowan – 100th Anniversary edition – October 24, 1968.

1868 The Daily Iowan – The University of Iowa, of course, should be mentioned here as well. The Daily Iowan, in one form or another, has been in existence since 1868. It began as The University Reporter (1868 – 1880). In 1879, The Vidette (1879 – 1880) emerged as a rival paper, and the two publications merged in September 1881 into The Vidette-Reporter (1881- 1901), a tri-weekly paper. The Vidette-Reporter eventually combined with The SUI Quill (1891 – 1901), a weekly literary publication, to form The Daily Iowan in 1901. Click here to read more about The Daily Iowan.

Hats off to George E. Boller – “The Daily Iowan’s All-time Greatest Doctor of Advertising…

Finally, I must mention, my dad, George E. Boller, a true newspaperman at heart. He learned the fine art of newspapering, including how to run a linotype, markup & assemble pages, and just about anything a good printer needed to know to run with the best. He worked for The Mt. Pleasant News from 1957-1966, and The Daily Iowan and University Printing Service from 1966 until his retirement in 1986.

Here’s to you, Dad. This page is written in your memory! Long live hot-lead newspapers!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Journalism in Iowa, William J. Peterson, Iowa Old Press, Iowa Press Association

Iowa’s Pioneer Press – Newspapers in Iowa History, Amy Ruth, Goldfinch: Iowa History for Young People; State Historical Society of Iowa, volume 18 – number 4,1997, p. 6

About the Du Buque Visitor, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, 1836-1837

Iowa Newspapers, Library of Congress

The First Newspaper and Printing Press in Iowa, The Annals of Iowa, Volume 1869 -Volume 1, pp 50-53

The Beginnings of Printing in Iowa, Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Annals of Iowa – Volume 19 – Number 1 – Summer 1933, p. 3-22

Picture of Smith Press, The Grandin Press: A Vital Tool of the Restoration, Church of Jesus Christ.org

The Iowa City Standard, Library of Congress, 1841-1842

The Iowa City Argus, Library of Congress, 1841-1842

The Iowa Capitol Reporter, Library of Congress, 1841-1855

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