Culture and Recreation

Johannes Gutenberg

What were penny newspapers?

Although the number of newspapers published in the United States climbed quickly during the first decades of the new republic (the decades following independence, 1783), they were not generally accessible to the common man. Priced at an average six cents a copy, the cost was outside the reach of the average American. The labor-saving machinery developed during the Industrial Revolution (late 1700s and early 1800s) was instrumental in lowering the cost of the newspaper: Because production costs were lower, publishers could charge less per copy. The first so-called penny newspaper (or one-cent paper) was published by Benjamin H. Day (1810–1889): the debut issue of the daily The New York Sun appeared in 1833. The American newspaper industry was off and running. Now reaching a mass audience, publishers worked feverishly to outdo each in order to keep their readers. By the late 1800s news reporting had become increasingly sensationalistic. Population growth (spurred by increased immigration at the end of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth century) meant there were plenty of readers for the now thousands of newspapers. During the first decade of the 1900s, before the proliferation of radio (invented 1895), the number of American newspapers peaked at about 2,600 dailies and 14,000 weeklies.


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