History of Portland Oregon’s Press

Portland has always had an industrious and vigorous press. The fathers of the city were not slow to perceive that among the things necessary to build up the city and make it known to the world was an active and enterprising press, and very soon after the city was started there was an effort to establish a newspaper here. The project was talked of for a considerable time before means were found of carrying it into execution. It was no easy matter to find a man who would undertake the publication of a newspaper in so young and small a community, and who at the same time possessed the ability and energy necessary for such a work. In those days there was not a newspaper in every village, as now. The business was yet to be created. Finally, towards the end of the year 1850, Col. W. W. Chapman, Hon. H. W. Corbett and others resolved that Portland must not wait longer for a newspaper, and that measures must be taken to establish one.

In the autumn of 1850, Messrs. Chapman and Corbett were in San Francisco on a variety of business relating to the new city of Portland. The newspaper was not forgotten. Their desire was to find a man who had the means of establishing a weekly newspaper and experience in conducting the business. Such a man fortunately was found in Thomas J. Dryer, the founder of the Oregonian.

Dryer was a native of Ulster County, New York. He had worked on the country press in his State, and had become known as a vigorous writer. He was not a man of much literary culture, but had high intelligence and great energy, and by nature belonged to the west rather than to the east. He had just arrived in California and had brought with him a hand press and a small lot of printing material. Mr. Corbett, in pursuit of a man who would establish a paper in Portland, fell in with Mr. Dryer, and undertook to show him that Portland was just the place for him; just the place where he could make an outfit like his own available. Colonel Chapman joined in the effort, and Mr. Dryer was induced to come to Portland to start a newspaper.

There was delay in getting the press and material shipped to Portland, but it finally arrived and was hastily put in order, and the first number of the Oregonian appeared December 4, 1850. It was a sheet of four pages, six columns to the page, and was to be published weekly. From that day to this it has never missed a weekly issue. Mr. Dryer was an aggressive and spirited, though not a scholarly or polished writer. The journals of that day gave little attention to reporting the ordinary incidents or affairs of their locality; news-gathering had not yet been developed into a science or business, and petty political discussion, consisting largely of personalities, and often descending to grossness, was the staple of the newspaper’s work. Soon after the Oregonian was started at Portland the Statesman was started at Oregon City, and as one was Whig and the other Democrat, controversies soon became hot between them. During a long period their columns were filled with bitter articles against each other, and the personalities of journalism were carried to an extreme seldom witnessed elsewhere. Their remote positions from centre of news, and the fact that few things of importance were transpiring in so small a community, were other causes that led the Oregon journals of that period to devote their space so largely to petty contention and personal vituperation. But the ” Oregon style” passed away in course of years, with the conditions that produced it.

The Oregonian, it is needless to say, was not a prosperous paper. Its earnings were small and debts accumulated, but means were found to carry it on from year to year. In 1853, Henry L. Pittock, who had just arrived in Oregon, across the plains, was engaged to work upon the paper. He was a practical printer, a youth of steady habits and great industry, and upon him gradually fell the duty of publishing the paper. Mr. Dryer gave little attention to details; he wrote editorials when in the humor-usually when he wished to assail or retort on opponents-and yet the paper was a positive force in Portland and throughout Oregon, chiefly because it suited the humor of a considerable number of the people, and there was nothing else to take its place. Mr. Dryer, through its columns and through his activity in the small politics of the day, kept himself continually before the people; he was several times a member of the territorial legislature, where he was as aggressive as . in the columns of his newspaper; and later he was a member of the convention that framed the constitution of the State. Meantime, Mr. Pittock, with the industry, perseverance and judgment that have since made him so conspicuous as a manager in journalism, was attending to the details and ” getting out” the paper week after week. In 1860, Mr. Dryer was chosen one of the electors on the Lincoln presidential ticket. The next year he was appointed minister to the Hawaiian Islands, and as he owed Mr. Pittock quite a sum for services, the latter took the paper and soon started it upon that career which has since made it so successful and famous in journalism. Mr. Dryer, after several years of residence abroad, returned to Portland, where he died in 1879.

Upon undertaking to publish the paper on his own account, Mr. Pittock’s first resolve was to start a daily. Two daily papers were already published in Portland-the Times and Advertiser; and each of these appeared to have a better chance for life than the Oregonian. But the patience, industry, application and skill of Mr. Pittock soon decided the contest in his favor. The first number of the Daily Oregonian appeared February 4, 1861. It was a sheet of four pages, with four columns to the page. As the civil war was just then breaking out great efforts were made to get news, and the energy of the Oregonian put it in the lead of its competitors. It was assisted also by its vigorous espousal of the cause of the Union, and people began to look to it not only for the news but for expression of their sentiments upon the great crisis. Simeon Francis, a veteran newspaper man from Springfield, Illinois, became editor, and held the place about one year, when he withdrew to accept a position in the army. He was succeeded by Amory Holbrook, a very able man but an irregular worker, who held the position two years. During 1864 and part of 1865, various persons did editorial work on the paper, among whom John P. Damon, now of Seattle, and Samuel A. Clarke, of Salem, deserve mention. In May, 1865, Harvey W. Scott was engaged as editor, and has ever since held the position, with the exception of the interval from October, 1872 to April, 1877, during which the paper was under the charge of W. Lair Hill.

In 1872, Hon. H. W. Corbett bought an interest in the paper, which he held till 1877, when he sold it to Mr. Scott, who resumed editorial charge. Since that time the paper, under Mr. Pittock as manager and Mr. Scott as editor, has grown with the country, has increased in circulation and has fully established itself at the head of journalism in the Northwest. Of the importance of Portland as a city, of the extent of the business of Portland and of the super-eminent position of the city in the Northwest, there is no surer attestation than the pages of the Oregonian.

The Evening Telegram was started in April, 1877. It was under-taken by an association of printers and was helped by the proprietors of the Oregonian. This arrangement lasted not much more than a year, when the printers who had engaged in it decided to go no further. The proprietors of the Oregonian thereupon took up the paper and have published it ever since.

The Western Star was started at Milwaukie shortly after the Oregonian was started at Portland. Milwaukie was a rival of Portland for commercial eminence, but it was soon perceived that the race was hopeless and the Western Star was brought down to Portland, where it was published as the Oregon Times. This paper was started by John Orvis Waterman, who remained with it several years. He was succeeded by Carter & Austin, who published the paper till 1861, when it was suspended. In 1854, the Democratic Standard appeared. Under the management of Alonzo Leland, who now lives at Lewiston, Idaho, it wielded some power in local politics. James O’Meara succeeded Leland in 1858. A year thereafter it suspended publication, but was soon after revived and for a few months continued the struggle for existence, making its last appearance on June 6, 1859.

On April 18, 1859, the first number of a daily newspaper was issued in this city. It bore the title of Portland Daily News, and was published by S. A. English & Co., with E. D. Shattuck as editor. It soon ceased to exist, and the material upon which it was printed was moved to Eugene City. The advent of the News was quickly followed by the appearance of the Oregon Advertiser, a weekly journal, under the editorial and proprietary control of Alonzo Leland. This paper continued to be published until October, 1862. Toward the end of its career S. J. McCormick became editor. He was succeeded by George I. Curry, the last editor of the paper, who had been one of Oregon’s territorial governors. The Advertiser was uncompromisingly democratic in its utterances and to such an extent did it support the anti-war attitude of its party during the early period of the war of the rebellion that its suspension was not entirely voluntary.

The Pacific Christian Advocate, the oldest religious journal in Oregon and the only paper, exclusive of the Oregonian, which has had an existence since the pioneer days of Portland, has been published since 1855. It was first established at Salem as an independent Methodist weekly with Rev. T. H. Pearne as. editor, but in 1859 was removed to Portland. It was published as an independent paper until the session of the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856, when that body adopted it as a general conference paper, and selected Mr. Pearne as editor for four years. Mr. Pearne continued as editor until 1864, when Rev. H. C. Benson, D. D., was chosen as his successor. The latter was succeeded in 1868 by Rev. Isaac Dillon, D. D., who occupied the ‘ editorial chair for eight years. In 1876 Rev. J. H. Acton became editor and ser-ued for four years. During all these years the paper was by no means self-supporting and had been a source of considerable expense to the general conference. In view of this fact, at the meeting of the general conference in 1880 it was determined to discontinue the Advocate, and after paying its liabilities to donate the paper to the Oregon and Columbia River General Conference. This was done, and the conference named turned the paper over to a joint stock company composed of members of the conference of which George W. Stayer is president, Rev. Alfred Kummer, secretary and treasurer and Rev. A. J. Hanson, business manager. Rev. H. K. Hines was. selected as editor under the new management. He served for eight years and during that time the subscription list largely increased and the paper was placed on a good financial basis. In 1888 Rev. W. S. Harrington became editor-a position he still holds. The present circulation of the Advocate is about twenty-four hundred copies.

After the suspension of the Advertiser the next newspaper venture in Portland, in connection with the secular press, was the Daily Evening Tribune, which was first issued in January, 1865. Col. Van Cleve and Ward Latter were its editors. It had a brief career, suspending within a month from date of issue.

The Oregon Herald followed the Tribune, appearing March 17, 1866, with H. M. Abbott and N. L. Butler as editors and proprietors. It was started as a Democratic organ. In June, 1866, the paper was purchased by a stock company composed of some of the leading Democratic politicians of the State, among the directors being A. E. Wait, W. Weatherford, J. K. Kelly, L. F. Grover, J. S. Smith, N. L. Butler and Dr. J. C. Hawthorne. Under the new management, Beriah Brown became editor. Financially the paper was not a success, and in November, 1868, it was sold to W. Weatherford, Sylvester Pennoyer at the same time becoming its editor. A few months later Mr. Pennoyer purchased the paper, continuing as editor and publisher until July 1, 1869, when he disposed of it to T. Patterson & Co. For a time thereafter Eugene Semple was editor. The paper, however, had but a brief existence after its last sale, and was finally forced to suspend, the entire plant being disposed of at auction.

Before the suspension of the Herald, however, two new dailies entered the field, the Portland Evening Bulletin, edited by J. P. Atkinson and the Portland Evening Commercial, edited by M. P. Bull, the former appearing January 6, 1868, and the latter July 11th, of the same year. They pursued an independent course in dealing with political questions, and made a vigorous fight to secure support, but both failed to find the road which leads to success in journalism, and after comparatively brief careers were added to the death roll of Portland newspapers.

The Portland Daily Bulletin was one of the unfortunate enterprises connected with Ben Holladay’s movements in Oregon. In furtherance of his vast schemes he estimated at its full value the aid of a newspaper which would be absolutely within his control. With this idea in view he purchased the plant which had been used in the publication of the San Francisco Times and removed it to Portland. The Bulletin made its appearance in 1870, with James O’Meara as editor. In 1872, H. W. Scott was associated in the editorship, but remained only a few months when T. B. Odeneal took charge. Under Odeneal’s editorial management the paper continued until it suspended publication in October, 1875. It was one of the most disastrous ventures in the history of Portland journalism, having cost nearly $200,000, more than its entire income during the brief years of its existence. The plant was sold at auction, and was scattered throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho and is still doing its duty in connection with country journalism.



MLA Source Citation:

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 12 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/oregon/history-of-portland-oregons-press.htm - Last updated on Apr 12th, 2013


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