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News from Los Angeles — 1881

September 5, 2009
By Howard Riley,

I cannot imagine how Roger Foster's family found and held onto an original copy of the first newspaper published by the Los Angeles Times. It is marked Vol. 1, No. 1, dated Sunday morning, Dec. 4, 1881 and is in excellent condition.

It is full sized, 14 by 22 inches, four pages and printed in very small, I would guess about 4-point type. The newspapers today are usually 8-point type. (Editor's note: The Enterprise uses 9.5.) The front page is half news and half advertisements, as is the rest of the newspaper.

The writing style was different as was the use of words, and the editorial page was laid out much the same as the other pages. Here is a piece of the Times editorial, but the masthead does not list any names: no publisher, no editor, and none of the stories carry a byline.

Article Photos

A sampling of advertisements in the Dec. 4, 1881 L.A. Times

"This morning the Los Angeles Daily Times is respectfully presented to the public, a new and hopeful candidate for a share of the patronage of this community.

"It has but few promises to make, other than it will work earnestly and strenuously in the interest of Los Angeles, and for the general improvement and welfare of the southern counties of California.

"Its aim will be to try and secure the largest share of prosperity and happiness for the greatest number; laboring steadily for the good of the whole people among whom its lot is cast, with the fixed purpose and determination of a true and unflinching friend."


Where to find the Times

The cost per copy was not listed on the newspaper, but it was 25 cents per week delivered by carrier, and a subscription was $10 a year. (When I first delivered the Enterprise, six days a week, it was 18 cents per week). It was to be published every day except Monday at 9 Temple St. This piece told where the newspaper would be available:

"The Los Angeles Times will be sold on all the trains of the Southern and Central Pacific Railroads; also on theAtchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and Texas and Pacific railroad. The Times can also be found at the news stands of the Palace and Occidental Hotels and Russ House, San Francisco."


When railroads were everywhere

This story was about a number of railroads which were to be consolidated:

"It has been reported for some time past among railroad magnates that an arrangement was about to be consummated between the Central Pacific, the Southern Pacific, and the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio railroads, commonly known ad the 'Huntington roads,' and the 'Gould roads,' which comprise the Texas Pacific, the Missouri Pacific, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, the International & Great Northern, and the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern railroads, to operate both systems as a joint line with a pro rate mileage division of earnings."


From page one

Now here is a strange twist to the first edition of a newspaper published in Los Angeles; the lead story is about San Francisco.

The headline reads: "The Golden Gate - The Business Boom at the Bay." Here are excerpts:

"A great deal has been said recently in San Francisco newspapers about the business boom which has struck the city. It is not always safe to credit the statements of merchants about their business, but there are several signs of prosperity which furnish the unfailing index of good times. Chief of these is the amount of advertising in the newspapers. Also there are several costly business blocks going up in the city and elegant private residences are being built in the western part of the city."

This page-one headline reads: "Cutting Whales in Two, the Steamship Newport Runs into A School of Them." Here is a piece of the story:

"The Newport, of the New York and Cuba Mail Steamship Company, ran into a school of sperm whales off the Delaware Capes on the southward trip. It was about 8 o'clock in the morning, and Captain John P. Sundberg says he could see millions of them from the deck. He estimated the width of the school at half a mile, and its length at twenty miles. The sea was smooth, the sun was shining and all the passengers were on deck. The vessel was steaming at fifteen knots. Some of the whales were seventy feet long. One of them, about sixty-five feet long, was struck by the bow of the steamship at right angles and about in the middle of the body.

"The shock nearly threw the passengers from their feet. At the moment of the collision the whale threw up its flukes and deluged the fore part of the deck. Commissioner Alden S. Swan, of the Brooklyn Bridge, who was looking over the prow, was among the passengers who got drenched. The whale, Captain Sundberg says, was cut in two, the fore part going to one side of the vessel and the after part to the other. The sea was colored with blood. The head was driven down into the water so far that when it arose six feet above the surface in plain sight of those who were looking over the side. Minutes later a second whale was cut in two in the same manner; the ship, not damaged, changed course and ran out of the school."



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