MINNESOTA: A STATE GUIDE
Press and Radio
CLOSE on the heels of western settlement came the printers. From the
often crowded and highly competitive centers of the East they followed
the opening of new lands, tempted by the opportunities offered in the printing
of official documents and the tracts and translations the missionaries
demanded. Some hoped to establish a medium of expression for their political
convictions. Still others were brought by land companies to help boom their
No sooner did it appear that Minnesota was to achieve territorial status
than two firms in Ohio and a publisher in Wisconsin almost simultaneously
decided to seize upon the first fruits of the new Territory's office printing,
and to establish its first newspaper. The earliest to arrive, bringing
his press by boat, was James M. Goodhue, publisher of the Grant County
Herald at Lancaster, Wisconsin, who landed in St. Paul four weeks before
Congress welcomed Minnesota as a Territory. Undaunted by his lack of subscribers,
pledges, or political acquaintances, he issued the first copy of the Minnesota
Pioneer on April 28, 1849. His slogan exhorted readers to "put
our trust in the people, not in princes." A graduate of Amherst College,
where he seems to have been a conspicuous leader in undergraduate fights
and pranks, Goodhue was successively schoolteacher, lawyer, and farmer.
In Lancaster he took up law for the second time, but soon decided to renounce
its practice and to buy the local newspaper. In St. Paul he set up his
primitive press in a building of which he said, "Open as a corn rick
. . . not that we would find fault with the pigs for it is all owing to
their bringing up; but really our equanimity is somewhat ruffled if our
chair is not jostled by the movements of their hard backs under our loose
floor." But Goodhue was compelled to overcome greater handicaps than
a drafty office. His hand press was capable of only 225 impressions an
hour, the closest type foundry was at Chicago, paper and ink were even
farther distant, and all mechanical equipment had to be hauled in summer,
since overland freight in the winter months was both uncertain and prohibitive
in price. He delivered his papers himself, noting on his route each new
development in the growing town, and recording it in the next issue. He
lived only three years after his arrival--not long enough to see the Minnesota
Pioneer become the Territory's first daily newspaper--but in that short
period he saw his little weekly gain steadily in influence, while his caustic
editorials and trenchant comments on local and national politics won for
him a fame that still endures.
His Ohio rivals refused to grant him the credit of publishing the Territory's
first newspaper although they had to acknowledge him its first resident
editor. The Minnesota Register, published in Cincinnati, was rushed
to St. Paul and, when unwrapped, copies were found to be dated both as
of April 7, and of April 27, 1849--both earlier than the Pioneer's
first issue on April 28--but there is some doubt about their having actually
appeared on the dates claimed. Nevertheless they carried the proud boast:
"We have to congratulate ourselves on being the first to undertake
the establishment of a paper in the new territory of Minnesota." Not
until July 14 did the Minnesota Register actually print copies in
Minnesota, and before then another Ohioan had reached St. Paul, issuing
the Minnesota Chronicle on May 31. The following August these Ohio
papers, both Whig in their affiliations, combined as the Minnesota Chronicle
The next printing concern to enter the region was motivated by an impulse
far removed from the economic one. Its press arrived in 1849 at Cass Lake,
and was paid for by students of Oberlin College and Ohio Sunday schools,
who sent it to the Reverend Alonzo Barnes for his Chippewa Indian mission.
The religious material it turned out was printed in both Ojibway and English.
The Dakota Friend, edited by the Indian missionary Gideon Pond,
was issued in St. Paul in 1850, and performed a similar service for the
Two years after the birth of the first newspaper, the St. Anthony
Express appeared at St. Anthony Falls piloted by Elmer Tyler, a tailor,
and Isaac Atwater, an attorney, both ardent Whig partisans. To oppose the
Express came the Northwestern Democrat, founded in 1853,
which moved the next year to the west side of the river, and, under J.
B. Bassett's direction espoused the then new and radical cause of Republicanism.
Later it merged with the State Atlas of William S. King, the Congressman,
State fair manager, cattle-fancier, and publisher, who is said to have
put Minneapolis journalism on a permanent, paying basis. Out of the Atlas
evolved the present Minneapolis Tribune.
The first decade in the history of Minnesota's newspapers brought them
great hardships. Not only were there mechanical difficulties to be overcome,
but news from the outside world was scanty, the post uncertain, and the
returns were small. Nevertheless during these 10 years, 90 papers were
founded, and although most of these were short-lived, 12 pioneer papers
have survived to the present day. (They are The St. Paul Pioneer Press,
1849; the Minnehaha, 1855; the Winona Republican Herald,
1855; the Chatfield News, 1856; the Hastings Gazette, 1856;
the Hokah Chief, 1856; the Stillwater Post-Messenger, 1856;
the Mantorville Express, 1857; the Monticello Times, 1857;
the Red Wing Republican, 1857; the St. Cloud Daily Times and
Daily Journal-Press, 1857; and the Wabasha County Herald-Standard,
The opening of land in the early fifties brought thousands of settlers,
and a new town was scarcely platted before it could boast its own news
sheet. Many served as advertising prospectuses for attracting settlers,
and thousands of copies were mailed to the eastern States and to Europe.
In the years 1854-56 papers were founded in settlements as widely scattered
as Winona, Stillwater on the St. Croix, Shakopee and St. Peter on the Minnesota,
Sauk Rapids on the upper Mississippi, and on the lower river, Red Wing,
Wabasha, and Brownsville.
It was also during the fifties that a number of Minnesota's most renowned
editors came to the Northwest. Earle S. Goodrich, often called "the
gentleman journalist of Minnesota," arrived in 1854 to edit the Goodhue
paper, that year grown to a daily. Sam K. Whiting, an arctic explorer and
adventurer, came in the same year to edit the Winona Argus and later
to establish the Winona Republican. In 1856 Ignatius Donnelly left
Pennsylvania to plat his city of Nininger and founded the Emigrant Aid
Journal to help him in building and promotion. The following year Jane
Grey Swisshelm, Minnesota's most famous newspaper woman and one of its
most colorful personalities, left her Saturday Visiter in Pittsburgh
to start a paper by the same name in St. Cloud. In that decade, too, came
Joseph Wheelock, later of the Pioneer Press, who for fifty years
was to be the acknowledged dean of Minnesota journalists.
The weeklies of the fifties and sixties were pretty nearly the only
contact between settlers and the outside world. True he did not depend
wholly on his local papers. In 1856 the new State was sending almost three
thousand subscriptions to the New York Tribune--more than any local
paper could boast. But it was to the local papers that he looked for legal
and government information, local business news, and the doggerel verse
that passed as poetry. Occasionally these papers carried really good literature.
Local news might be meager enough but political and other national news
appeared, rewritten from eastern papers and freely commented upon by the
editor. There was little competition from periodicals, and the large amount
of space given over to magazine material furnished reading matter for the
Even the early Territorial days had a few foreign-language papers,
and their number increased steadily with the great tides of immigration.
First of these were the German, led by the Minnesota Deutsche Zeitung
of St. Paul. The Norwegian Folkets Röst and the Swedish Minnesota
Posten followed in 1857, the latter under the well-known church leader,
Erik Norelius (see EDUCATION AND RELIGION). Col.
Hans Mattson's Minnesota Stats Tidning of 1877 exerted a powerful
influence on Swedish culture in Minnesota. Like many other foreign-language
publications, the Stats Tidning was devoted to matters of church
interest and to the causes of reform and temperance. Still larger in scope
was the Svenska Amerikanska Posten, established on a permanent basis
in 1885, and which boasted, under its editor, Swan J. Turnblad, the largest
paid circulation of any Swedish periodical in the United States. Prominent
among Norwegian publications was the Minneapolis Tidende, successor
to Emigranten, and the first Norwegian newspaper in the United States
to attain any degree of permanence. Minnesota's only French newspaper was
L'Echo de l'Ouest. From its birth in 1883 to its demise some 45
years later L'Echo played a major part in preserving the French
language and French traditions in the Northwest. Today there are 24 foreign-language
papers in the State: 10 German, 4 Finnish, 4 Norwegian, 3 Swedish, 2 Danish,
and 1 Polish.
Negro newspapers, dating back at least as far as 1885, have always
played a vital part in shaping public opinion within the group. At present
there are three Negro weeklies in the State, the Minneapolis Spokesman,
Twin City Herald, and St. Paul Recorder.
In the seventies it began to be obvious that a marked change in the
character of many country papers was taking place. Ready-print and boilerplate
had appeared, and by 1880 all papers were using non-shopset material for
their foreign, national, and State news. The growth of the metropolitan
dailies served further to lessen the significance of local editorial comment,
and more and more the country editor curtailed his contributions on large
issues and confined himself to local happenings. With the passing of the
ready-made columns, after the turn of the century, news of a foreign nature
was given still less importance, until by 1929 it occupied less than 5
percent of the news space. At the same time magazine material (which in
the last half of the past century had filled 40 percent of the weekly)
was in its turn steadily displaced as libraries, periodicals, and metropolitan
dailies extended their circulations and supplied more and more successfully
the people's reading requirements. Despite these changes in the country
newspaper, many characteristics have remained surprisingly constant. All
of them still attempt urban daily make-up, and divide their space about
equally between advertising and news, a general practice since 1860.
From the land exploitation and violent political partisanship of pioneer
days, Minnesota papers turned to merchandising and other services to emerge
at last in their present form. However naive and quaint seem the news sheets
of the past when compared with the urban dailies today, it is necessary
to consider the wide influence and varied interests of the pioneer newsmen.
Among the State's early editors were Erik Norelius, father of Gustavus
Adolphus College; Isaac Atwater, judge of Minnesota's supreme court; and
Russell Conwell, who left his paper, after having been instrumental in
organizing the Minnesota Editors' Association, to found Temple University
in Philadelphia and later to help 3,000 young men through school.
Since 1900 the story has differed little from that in other States,
but the Northwest witnessed in that time one large-scale venture in journalism.
In 1918 A. C. Townley established the Northwest Service Bureau in the interests
of the Non-Partisan League, and for a time operated the 36 papers to which
it supplied machinery, personnel, and selected news. The central news bureau
gradually dissolved, however, and most of its papers were absorbed or discontinued.
Largest of these organs was the Minnesota Daily Star, founded in
1920, and, as the Minneapolis Star, taken over by a conservative
management in 1935.
In 1937 the newspapers in Minnesota numbered about 500, of which 8
were metropolitan dailies, 26 smaller dailies, the remainder weekly and
monthly sheets. Of the metropolitan papers, six are in the Twin Cities:
the Minneapolis Tribune, Star, and Journal and the St. Paul
Pioneer Press, Dispatch, and News. In Duluth the Herald
and the News-Tribune share the field. Of the five hundred, more
than 125 have passed the half-century mark, and 12 have celebrated their
diamond jubilee--a remarkable record in view of Minnesota's youth, and
of the fact that in the entire country only about 160 had passed the century
mark at the time of the study.
Most significant of all recent journalistic events occurred on July
1, 1931. The United States Supreme Court ruled that the Minnesota newspaper
suppression law was unconstitutional. The court held that libel laws gave
sufficient protection to persons attacked, and hence it was unnecessary
to suppress the publication in which the attack was printed.
In the last two decades radio has become an important supplement to
newspapers as a medium for disseminating information and entertainment.
In 1936 there were 15 broadcasting stations in the State, 13 commercial
(1 with television equipment) and 2 educational stations.
Although it is not the first radio station in the State, WCAL, St.
Olaf College, is the oldest still operating under its original call letters.
Established in Northfield in 1921, WCAL since its inception has broadcast
a variety of educational, religious, and musical programs. The other institutional
station is the University of Minnesota's WLB, which broadcasts courses
by professors and others in cultural subjects such as music appreciation
(in which it was a pioneer) and foreign languages, in addition to agricultural
programs by experts of the university's farm school.
In November 1922, two Minneapolis newspapers rushed on the air in a
furor of competition; the Tribune with station WAAL, the Journal
by arrangement with a local experimental station. The St. Paul Pioneer
Press entered the commercial field about the same time, but a surplus
of expenses over income impelled the three dailies to retire in favor of
the 500-watt Western Electric transmitter WLAG. The latter was succeeded
after two years by WCCO, present outlet for the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Among other early Twin City stations were WDGY, a small commercial unit,
and KSTP, member of the National Broadcasting Company's Red Network.
It is interesting to note that today, some 14 or 15 years after their
original venture, the newspapers are back on the air, the Tribune
and Pioneer Press with their own station WTCN (an outlet for NBC's
Blue Network), the Journal, in alliance with KSTP, and the Star
affiliated with WCCO.
Six of Minnesota's radio stations are now in the Twin Cities, leaving
nine distributed in Duluth, Virginia, Moorhead, Rochester, and other of
the larger towns.