A brief history of The Inquirer
It was going to be a hot one. Sudden summer had arrived in Philadelphia. The sun had come up out of Camden 'cross the way, and this city of 190,000 was going about its workaday tasks with an apprehensive eye on the thermometer. In the pressroom of an about-to-be-born publication on this Monday, June 1, 1829, there was an air of expectation.
It was going to be a hot one. Sudden summer had arrived in Philadelphia. The sun had come up out of Camden 'cross the way, and this city of 190,000 was going about its workaday tasks with an apprehensive eye on the thermometer. In the pressroom of an about-to-be-born publication on this Monday, June 1, 1829, there was an air of expectation.
By midafternoon, Philadelphia would have another daily newspaper, its seventh, to be called The Pennsylvania Inquirer. But now, at midday, according to legend, the partners in publication of the paper were engaged in conversation. The story, as it has been handed down through the decades, probably is apocryphal. Perhaps, though, its inclusion may be permitted here, if only because it has the saving grace of plausibility. It does, after all, state a case, albeit in more than somewhat florid phraseology.
The partners were John Norvell, a man of middle age, who had been editor of the Aurora & Gazette, the city's largest daily, and a young printer named John R. Walker. They had joined to publish a newspaper dedicated to Jeffersonian Democracy and loyal to Andrew Jackson, who had just begun his first term as president. As the story goes, Norvell picked up a proof of Page One, nodding toward the flag. "There can be no better name than 'The Inquirer,'" he is reputed to have said. "In a free state, there should always be an inquirer asking on behalf of the people: 'Why was this done? Why is that necessary work not done? Why is that man put forward? Why is that law proposed? Why? Why? Why?'"
Walker, who bore the hallmark of his trade, an ink smudge on the side of his nose, nodded vigorously. "I am of your mind," he replied, "especially since the Aurora & Gazette has lost its touch with the plain people. Do you think, Mr. Norvell, that The Inquirer will take away many of its readers?"
John Norvell smiled. He had left the Aurora & Gazette because of what he perceived as its growing editorial approval of a national trend toward imitation of the European class system, and he was confident he had made the right move. "Friend Walker," he said. "The Inquirer will succeed because it will stand for the interests of all the people, rather than for the will of those who set themselves up as the higher classes." It was a noble forecast, but Norvell and Walker didn't stay around long enough to enjoy more than a smidgen of success. They would own the paper for less than six months. To their credit, though, they managed to keep it alive until they found a buyer with the wherewithal and the know-how to make it a winner.
The nation into which the The Pennsylvania Inquirer ("Philadelphia" replaced "Pennsylvania" in 1859) was born consisted of 24 states, with the territories of Arkansas and Michigan pushing to be admitted next. The men of that day sported tall hats of furred beaver, ruffled shirts and varnished boots; the women wore wide gowns and bonnets of white muslin trimmed with black silk ribbons. A popular song was "Home Sweet Home," which had been composed six years earlier; songs in those pre-radio and -jukebox days, though, had a far longer shelf life than they do now. Financier-philanthropist Stephen Girard, nearing 80, was still going daily to his counting house, and in City Hall the never-ending power struggle between the mayor -in this instance, one Benjamin W. Richards -and City Council continued apace.
In that first issue of The Inquirer, Norvell and Walker promised editorially that the paper would be devoted "to the maintenance of the rights and liberties of the people, equally against the abuses as the usurpation of power." They affirmed the right of a minority to set forth its opinions, "however discordant they may be with those of the majority." They promised "undeviating support" to "home industries, American manufacturies, and internal improvements that so materially contribute to the agricultural, commercial and national prosperity."
Then, having zealously proclaimed their support of Old Hickory, they warned that "whenever any of his measures may appear to be wrong, we shall in the spirit of friendly criticism freely point out what we may consider their evil tendency. We condemn a blind, indiscriminate vindication of the acts, right or wrong, of any administration as much as we reprobate a factious and uniform opposition to them."
Then, as now, newspaper problems were acute. Especially for publications just starting out with limited resources against a field of solid competitors. Philadelphia was a hot newspaper town, as they say, and Norvell and Walker never were able to do much against the field. In addition to the well-established Aurora & Gazette, there were the Democratic Press, the Morning Journal, the Daily Courier, the United States Gazette, the National Gazette & Literary Register and the American Daily Advertiser.
In mid-November 1829, Norvell and Walker had to toss in the towel. They sold The Inquirer to Jesper Harding, who at age 30 not only had a daily newspaper background as an associate editor of the United States Gazette but was also the leading publisher of the Bible in the country. At 16, Harding had set up a book-publishing house and had decided early on to concentrate on the production of Bibles. Now he set about acquiring newspapers.
At the same time he purchased The Pennsylvania Inquirer and moved it from its original home at No.5 Bank Alley, between Front and Second Streets just south of Walnut Street, to 36 Carter's Alley, between Second and Third Streets south of Chestnut, he also bought the Democratic Press and published in the afternoon under the Inquirer name.
In January 1830, Harding absorbed the Morning Journal and returned to a morning edition of The Inquirer, where the paper has since remained. He also moved the enlarged paper to 74V2 South Second St. In 1834, The Inquirer swallowed the Daily Courier, once a highly profitable publication but on the skids since its publisher, James Gordon Bennett, had made a gratuitous editorial attack on a considerable segment of Philadelphia's intellectual community -the members of the Wistar Association, an offshoot of the American Philosophical Society. Bennett took the money and ran to New York, where he established the New York Herald.
In 1840, The Inquirer got its own building, on the southeast corner of Third Street and Carter's Alley, just south of Chestnut Street. Six stories, it was the structural marvel of its day. For the first time in Pennsylvania, brick and wood had been replaced in the architectural scheme by iron. The "Bogardus plan," which called for iron beams, struts and frames, had been followed, and The Inquirer looked upon the world from a front that was wholly iron and glass. It was a forebear of the iron, steel and glass skyscrapers of today, an innovation that was to revolutionize building construction throughout the world.
Nothing in the building could have been termed architecturally pretentious. The structure was taller than its neighbors; its front elevation was a narrow rectangle whose general character was repeated in the rectangular windows and doors. In the heart of the complex was a state-of-the-art flatbed press that was the envy of rival publishers. The total effect was in no sense one of beauty -but it was practical and durable.
The move into the new structure came when the nation was striding toward world leadership. The first American locomotive had been built in Philadelphia by Matthias Baldwin in 1827 -two years before The Inquirer was born. In 1840, railroads were being built and daring, men were planning their extension after the building of the first railway to the west from Philadelphia in 1834. Steamships were beginning to replace sailing vessels. Morse was working out the details of his marvelous electric telegraph. The first daguerreotype of the human face was made in Philadelphia 10 years after the birth of The Inquirer.
The country was on the move. Philadelphia was on the move. And The Inquirer was on the move, driving ahead. Two years after the new plant was opened, Jesper Harding announced the acquisition of yet another rival -The National Gazette & Literary Register.
Harding was an astute businessman, a marketer of such virtuosity as to be decades ahead of his time. Unlike most of his peers throughout the country, for instance, he did not simply rail against the high cost of newsprint; he built his own paper mill to meet the needs of The Inquirer. And after his son William W. came into the business as a partner in 1856 and became owner three years later when Jesper Harding retired, the paper became even more progressive in its business practices.
Early on, Harding found it possible to keep The Inquirer on pretty much the same political path set for it by Norvell and Walker. The Inquirer backed the Democratic Party virtually across the board until the publisher began to develop a split personality concerning Andrew Jackson. While he much admired Old Hickory as a leader, Harding could not agree with Jackson's attacks on the Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut St. When Jackson ordered government deposits removed from the bank, Harding decided the time had come to choose one side or the other.
He opted for the anti-Jackson wing of the Democratic Party. Looking back, it is clear that in point of The Inquirer's success three decades down the road as perhaps the foremost publication in coverage of the Civil War, Harding made the right call. Had the paper remained Democratic, political pressures during the Civil War might have made it difficult, if not impossible, for it to cover the conflict properly.
The Inquirer had, indeed, become a major newspaper. It covered the Mexican War, supported Millard Fillmore against James Buchanan and John C. Fremont, and advocated the election of Abraham Lincoln. And in 1861, with the shot fired against Fort Sumter, The Inquirer, as historian Ellis P. Oberholtzer would put it a half-century later, "took its place on the side of the government and remained one of the strongest and most consistent supporters."
The general scope of the paper was broadened and the use of fiction as a circulation builder was developed. In 1840, Harding achieved a sort of literary coup by obtaining first American serial rights for exclusive publication of several of Charles Dickens' novels, among them Barnaby Rudge and Master Humphrey's Clock. It was a landmark action. Harding not only obtained the rights, but as the works were published, Dickens was paid "liberally" for them. What made this a landmark was the previously accepted practice of the time in this country of promising foreign authors anything but giving them little or nothing.
It was not to be Dickens' only experience with The Inquirer. During his second visit here in 1867, Dickens awoke one day to read in The Inquirer that he would "be gratified to shake hands with his friends this morning between the hours of half-past 10 and half-past 11." The item, inserted by a staff member whose name is lost in antiquity, was in error, as Dickens was reluctant to participate in such affairs. But he had no choice, for the throng already was gathering outside his hotel suite. Screwing up his courage, he went out to greet them, and for the next hour he moved about, pumping hands like a ward heeler.
Later, Dickens drew from the experience in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit: "Such varieties of hands, the thick, the thin, the short, the long, the fat, the lean, the coarse. . ."
Noting his dealing with Dickens, one biographer of Harding's has observed that the publisher wasn't always so aware of young literary talent. Meaning that Samuel Clemens, who was to become world famous as Mark Twain, was a compositor in The Inquirer's back shop for a few months in the early 1850s. .
Under Jesper Harding, as historian Nicholas B. Wainwright has observed, The Inquirer "was genteel and respectable in tone, reflecting a deference to the commercial interests of the community." As Harding grew older, the paper became less innovative. There was, however, little likelihood of dry rot setting in, for preparing to assume command was son William.
William Harding was 26 when he came aboard as a partner in 1856, and people who had known his father as a young man were impressed by the similarity of traits observed during the early years of each. Like his father at the same approximate age, William had boundless energy, usually sure instincts and little reluctance to try new things.
Thus, when Jesper Harding called it a career and William took command, some changes were made. The name of the paper was changed to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Some old-fashioned business methods were discarded or altered. For example, most of the circulation went to annual subscribers, with few copies sold on the street; the price of a subscription was $8, "payable half yearly in advance." Consequently, circulation remained stagnant. Seeking broader circulation, William Harding cut the single-copy price from 3 cents to 2 cents. He improved his cash flow by establishing delivery routes, with the carriers making collections from their customers at the end of every week. Newsboys hawked the paper on the streets.
Then, as now, circulation figures told the story. When William Harding took charge, circulation was about 7,000. By 1863, it had climbed to 70,000. Part of this upsurge, of course, was attributable to the public's desire for news of the Civil War. On the other hand, it is clear that the upsurge continued because William Harding saw to it that the public was given all available news.
Civil War coverage
When the Civil War broke out, Harding enlarged his staff of reporters, selecting war correspondents of proven ability; those correspondents, as a group, came to be regarded as perhaps the finest to function in the war. The men were, at bottom, superb reporters with marked sensitivity to what they saw on the battlefield. In filing their reports, they made use not only of the mail but of that new marvel the telegraph.
It also may be said of William Harding that he not only brought the news of the armies to Inquirer readers, but he sent The Inquirer to the armies.
"It is doubtful," says The History of Philadelphia, an authoritative late-19th-century work by J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, "whether any other paper in the country enjoyed as wide a circulation among the soldiers. Not infrequently, from 25,000 to 30,000 copies of a single issue were thus distributed." Indeed, when the federal government sought to familiarize its troops with any particular steps in the conduct of the war, it called on The Inquirer to issue a special edition for its armies.
While The Inquirer was squarely behind the Union war effort, Harding insisted that the reporting of military action be objective. So marked was this objectivity that the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces followed the paper intently to check on the goings and comings of the Union armies.
As Douglas Southall Freeman related in his biography of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederate high command was glad to obtain copies of The Inquirer whenever possible, as it was felt the newspaper was accurate in its war coverage. Lee was the last one to reach this conclusion: His nature compelled him to be highly suspicious of newspaper reports of any kind, but eventually he became convinced that The Inquirer's correspondents knew what they were writing about. From then on, he attached high importance to the paper's reports.
Probably nothing is more illustrative of Harding's sending The Inquirer to the armies than an occurrence during the Battle of Gettysburg - where, for the first time, soldiers were able to read of a battle even as they fought it.
On the afternoon of Friday, July 3, 1863, a youngster named Cullen Aubrey, known as "Doc," rode among the Union troops, hawking newspapers. Aubrey, who lived on a farm south of Gettysburg, had met the train from Baltimore at Westminster, Md., strapped piles of unfolded Inquirers fore and aft on his saddle, and ridden to the Gettysburg battlefield .to sell the troops an edition containing an account of the first day's struggle on July 1. "The Great Battle!" the main headline read.
Years later, in his book Reflections of a Newsboy in the Army of the Potomac, Aubrey remembered: "The papers went like gingerbread at a state fair."
In Philadelphia on June 26 -five days before the battle was joined at Gettysburg, but after it had been established that Lee was moving north -The Inquirer pulled out the largest type in the shop for a headline: "To Arms, Citizens of Pennsylvania! The Rebels Are Upon Us!" Prominent on Page One was a story in which Philadelphia Mayor Alexander Henry exhorted the populace: "Close Your Manufacturies, workshops and stores before the stern necessity of common safety makes it obligatory. Assemble yourselves forthwith for organization and drill." Third Street, the city's press row, was thronged as never before as people came from allover the city to check on news bulletins as they were posted.
On Monday, July 6, after the Battle of Gettysburg, The Inquirer devoted its entire front page - five columns wide -to a wrap-up of the struggle. Taking up most of Column 1 was a multi-tiered headline: "VICTORY!! - Waterloo Eclipsed! - The Desperate Battles Near Gettysburg!! - Repulse of the Rebels at All Points!! Gen. Lee Reported in Full Retreat, Pursued by
Gen. Meade's Forces - Many Thousands of Rebels Captured. - A Large Number of Cannon, and Immense Quantities of Small Arms, Ammunition Etc. Etc. Part of the Trophies. -The Rebel Loss Truly Frightful - Over Twenty Thousand Killed and Wounded ... Loss of Many Brave Defenders of the Union. - Reported Deaths of Hill and Longstreet. - Official Dispatches from Gen. Meade. - Ordered to Return to Richmond. - A Rebel Pontoon Bridge destroyed at Williamsport. - Lee's Army Retreating Down the Boonsbory Road; in a Disorganized Condition - President Lincoln Congratulates the Union Army."
The lead story in that July 6 issue had been filed by Uriah Hunt Painter, The Inquirer's most celebrated correspondent, who merits a place among the nation's all-time great battlefield journalists. In his book, Bohemian Brigade, about Civil War correspondents, Louis M. Starr calls Painter a "crack correspondent" and quotes Edmund Clarence Stedman of the New York World as saying that Painter was "made of iron." J. Cutler Andrews, in his book The North Reports the Civil War, terms Painter "a man of strong character, close-mouthed and inclined to concentrate his attention on facts, leaving descriptive writing to others."
Painter, 24 years old at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, was a Quaker from West Chester. He was a brave man under fire but he never put himself at unnecessary risk. There was an occasion during the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 when reporters observing the conflict were engulfed in a wild panic of teamsters, spectators and horses. Painter lost his mount but almost immediately seized a wounded Confederate cavalry horse, leaped aboard and rode off. Subsequently, Painter was chided by a colleague for his abrupt departure. Painter's reply is said to have been that The Inquirer wasn't paying him to be a hero, that his job was to cut out as soon as possible to file his story.
During the first year or so of the war, Painter found himself in what basically was a personality conflict with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, But, by his skillful methods of obtaining news and his proficiency in arriving at correct deductions concerning enemy intentions before they became apparent to Stanton or his military advisers, Painter finally won the confidence of the crusty secretary. From then on, the use of the military telegraph lines and the secretary's cipher were open to him. According to Gen. Henry van Ness Boynton, himself a prominent newspaperman in Washington, "There was no one of any department of public life on whose statements Stanton placed greater reliance and by whose information he was more frequently guided."
Uriah Painter and the war
In the first Battle of Bull Run, the Union forces were kicked around by the Confederates, but no one would have known it by reading the first official bulletins issued in Washington. The other Philadelphia newspapers went with the official releases, which claimed a Union victory. This caused much happiness among the populace. The Inquirer used Painter's story, virtually causing a riot.
After riding from the battlefield on a Confederate cavalry horse, Painter had hurried into Washington to file his story. Discovering that every telegraph office in the city was closed, Painter boarded a Philadelphia-bound train. All seats were taken, so the exhausted correspondent stretched out on the floor of the baggage car and slept. Arriving in Philadelphia, he went to the Inquirer office and was astonished to find that the editors did not believe him when he told them of what had happened; they, too, had been enchanted by the "glorious victory" bulletins.
After considerable argument, Painter persuaded his betters that his story was - authentic. And his piece in The Inquirer turned out to be the first accurate full-length report to be published anywhere. A considerable crowd gathered in front of the newspaper's building and threatened to burn it because the paper had published such "copperhead" news (a copperhead was a Northerner who sympathized with the South during the Civil War), A Philadelphian named G.B.P. Ringwault wrote to a friend concerning The Inquirer's publication of the story: "The sensation sheet was bitterly denounced, in some instances, carriers were kicked out of homes for attempting to serve it."
Not always did The Inquirer come off with colors flying. It was thoroughly beaten in its coverage of the Battle of Antietam. Painter had left Washington a few days before the battle to go to Mansfield, Ohio, on what a colleague facetiously termed "a Union mission." While Painter was preparing to take his matrimonial vows, The Inquirer's news editors bungled the assignment and the paper had to put together a jerry-built story out of bits and pieces.
For all of the attention paid him, Painter was by no means the only star in The Inquirer's stable of correspondents. There also were Edward Crapsey, Henry M. Bentley, John H. Taggart, George P. Bower, J.S. Rhodes, J. MacDuff and C.S. McArand. They were a good team - so good, in fact, that John Russell Young, the high octane chief correspondent of the Philadelphia Press, The Inquirer's chief rival, was said to have complained, with a sort of bitter amiability, that there were times when it seemed the Inquirer people knew more about the war than did most of the generals.
Edward Crapsey was a correspondent only a cut or two below Painter in ability and accomplishment, but it was for his unsought role in an opera bouffe episode during the war that he is mentioned in history books.
As a correspondent with the Army of the Potomac during the Wilderness Campaign in 1864, Crapsey reported regularly on what was a peculiar situation. Gen. George Gordon Meade, a Philadelphian and a hero throughout the North since the Battle of Gettysburg, was commander of the Army of the Potomac - but the campaign was being conducted by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all the Union armies in the field.
On May 24, 1864, The Inquirer carried an analysis of the situation, written by Crapsey. Meade, the correspondent stated, was hesitant about committing forces to battle. Were it not for the more aggressive Grant, he said, the Army of the Potomac would be bogged down in a morass of its own commander's making of its own commander's making.
Meade reacted strenuously to the article. It was bad enough that such a view be printed anywhere, the general fumed, but it was unthinkable that a newspaper in one's native city should do the pointing.
At Meade's command, an order for Crapsey's expulsion from the facilities of the Army of the Potomac was drawn up. Gen. Marcellus R. Patrick, the provost marshal general, carried it out. At high noon of the appointed day at army headquarters, Crapsey was mounted, face back ward, on a sorry-looking mule; attached placards read, "Libeler of the Press." The correspondent was paraded through the camp to the tune of "The Rogues March." Finally, he was escorted out of the lines.
Crapsey traveled immediately to Washington, where he presented his case to fellow correspondents. After some discussion, it was agreed that Meade's name should never again be mentioned by any of the correspondents present, except in connection with a defeat or some other major foul-up. All future successes were to be attributed to Grant, and if a general order appeared, it was understood that Meade's name was to be excised before publication.
As a result, the recent national hero was almost completely ignored by the press for at least the next six months. Some historians suggest it is just possible that Meade's treatment of Crapsey and the repercussions may have cost the general a chance at the presidency of the United States.
Within the profession, Civil War correspondents were known as "The Bohemians" because of their frequent disregard of convention. Typically Bohemian was The Inquirer's Henry Bentley, a bulbous fellow known to his colleagues as "The Water Spout Man" because of his incessant bragging and babbling. During the Battle of Shiloh, Bentley, a crackerjack correspondent despite his compulsion to sound off, was captured in his tent by the Confederates. A day later, stripped of all but his pantaloons and boots, he escaped and hurried east to join Uriah Painter.
Legend has it that Painter professed not to believe that Bentley had really escaped; the Confederates had let him go, Painter said, because they had grown weary of listening to him talk.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, The Inquirer continued to grow. In April 1863, with more production space needed, the paper moved from its iron-front building to a larger structure, just around the corner at 304 Chestnut St. In the pressroom was a new steam Bullock printing press, the first of its kind in the world.
During the war years there developed a bitter fight between The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Press, published by John W. Forney. It was William Harding's ambition not only to outperform the Press but, as he stated in The Inquirer of April 2, 1863, "to relieve this city of its dependence on New York for news." What Harding offered was a lively eight-page sheet, not much larger than today's tabloid in page size, packed with special correspondence and more war maps than any other newspaper with the possible exception of the New York Herald. In the field of illustration, The Inquirer was in a class by itself; woodcuts of generals, admirals and political figures were carried frequently, and on unusual occasions there were even spot news pictures. But, then, generous use of illustrations by The Inquirer scarcely was new. On June 2, 1860, for instance, the paper had printed a page-deep, four-column drawing of Professor Carlincourt Lowe's balloon, "City of New York," which the aeronaut was testing near the Point Breeze gas works. The same year, reports of the Japanese embassy's visit to this country were profusely illustrated in a special supplement.
Busy as he was with The Inquirer, Harding had time to maintain direct control of the Bible publishing house bearing the family name. "Harding Bibles" were selling briskly. Also, Harding was interested in the potential of street railways, and he became a leader in the development of Philadelphia's transit system.
In just a few more years, however, it all went sour. During the Reconstruction era after the Civil War -which included "Black Friday" in 1869 -William Harding fell ill. Economic shocks and the publisher's long illness bled The Inquirer. By 1888, in a city approaching the one million mark in population, the paper's circulation had fallen from its Civil War peak of 70,000 to 5,000. Advertising revenues had shrunk and the enterprise seemed about to go under.
But in 1889, Harding was able to sell the newspaper to British-born James Elverson, who had come to this country as a young man and had worked for a time in an uncle's shoe business in Newark, N.J. Assiduously he studied the great invention of the day, the telegraph, and went to Washington as a telegraph operator. During the Civil War he managed the American Telegraph Co. office in the capital, where he got to know not only such political figures as Lincoln and Stanton but most of the war correspondents, including Painter.
After the war, Elverson came to Philadelphia and bought a small newspaper, the Philadelphia Call. Out of that purchase grew two profitable mass-circulation weeklies: Golden Days for boys and girls, one of the most popular publications of its kind ever circulated in the United States, and Saturday Night, a fiction publication for the adult market. When the opportunity came to buy The Inquirer, Elverson jumped at it.
What he bought wasn't much. Years later, a longtime associate of Elverson's, recalling the paper's condition when purchased, stated: "At that time, this newspaper was a decadent relic of a once-prosperous institution. When (Elverson) purchased The Inquirer, he secured only a name, and at first that did not appear a valuable asset."
In acquiring the newspaper, Elverson was, in a sense, buying a memory with a view toward restoring it. Through Painter and other correspondents during the war, he had come to know The Inquirer and to admire it. Now, a quarter century later, he saw an opportunity to do something with it.
Elverson moved The Inquirer into a new building at 929 Chestnut St. The four-story structure had been fitted throughout with the most advanced newspaper equipment of the day; new perfecting presses, typesetting equipment and a fine stereotyping system. And not only the hardware was improved. Editorial, advertising, circulation and mechanical staffs had been in. creased and strengthened. Also, Elverson was the first publisher to run his entire pressroom by electricity.
The new, improved (read: "rescued") Inquirer hit the streets Saturday, March 1, 1889, with a lively paper containing, among other things, a Page One story about merchant John Wanamaker averting a panic in the Bethany Sunday School, 22d and Bainbridge Streets, and an account of manager Harry Wright and 11 Phillies players sailing on the steamer City of San Antonio for spring training in Florida. Manager Wright, of course, predicted that the Phillies would win the pennant. In the lead editorial was this Elverson promise:
" ... the new Inquirer shall be in all respects a complete, enterprising, progressive newspaper, moved by all the wide-awake spirit of the time and behind in nothing of interest to people who want to know what is going on every day and everywhere . . . steadily and vigorously Republican in its political policy, but just and fair in its treatment of all questions . . . constantly alive to the best and broadest interests of the city and State."
Three months after Elverson took command of The Inquirer - the date was May 31, 1889 - a dam broke near Johnstown, Pa. As another generation of Inquirer staffers would do 90 years later at a place called Three Mile Island, a team of reporters was immediately to the site. In its coverage of a disaster that claimed more than 2,200 lives, the revivified Inquirer did an exemplary job.
The public liked the new Inquirer. So much so that in the autumn of 1889, Elverson started a Sunday edition. In 1890, in his eagerness to produce a newspaper that more people would buy, Elverson cut the price of the weekday paper from two cents to one, at the same time increasing its size to an eight-column page.
It was Elverson's belief that classified advertisements in a newspaper constituted news and that "help wanted" and "situations wanted" copy sold papers. Consequently, he constantly sought to build up The Inquirer's classified ad pages. For a time he gave space free in "situations wanted" for the unemployed. This gave rise to a line, now long forgotten: "If you see a man carrying The Inquirer, he's looking for work." Ninety years later, when The Inquirer and the Bulletin were heading for their Armageddon, it was The Inquirer's superiority in classified advertising volume that helped keep its financial head above water in the period when the Bulletin was well ahead in a weekday circulation.
Little time was lost in carrying out Elverson's pledge that The Inquirer "will be constantly alive to the best and broadest interests of the city and State." Philadelphia's thoroughfares were a disgrace of patchwork and inefficient paving. Broad Street had the decidedly dubious distinction of being one of the worst-surfaced main streets anywhere in the nation. Less than three weeks after Elverson assumed control of The Inquirer, the paper in a strong editorial declared for a municipal policy of modern paving for Philadelphia's streets; for openers it demanded that Broad Street be paved from end to end "as an example and pacemaker for all other central city thoroughfares."
Officially, Mayor Edwin F. Fitler remained above the battle, but Director of Public Works Jonathan Wagner inveighed almost daily against The Inquirer and its "reckless programme." But public opinion in favor of the crusade grew, and suddenly the administration's resistance collapsed. Seven miles of asphalt paving made Broad Street one of the world's finest boulevards, while new surfaces covered Chestnut Street and other central city streets.
In the first year of Elverson's tenure as publisher, there were two other major projects in which The Inquirer played an important role. One it aided to fulfillment. The other it destroyed.
Opposition by the Fitler administration had prevented the extension of the Philadelphia & Reading Railway to the heart of the city. Today, with the commuter tunnel in operation, it is difficult to picture Center City being inaccessible from any direction, but such was the case prior to 1893, when a station called the Reading Terminal was opened at 12th and Market Streets. The best a passenger could do, coming into the
City from the northern suburbs on a P&R train, was get off at either the Broad and Callowhill Streets station - directly across Broad Street from where the Inquirer-Daily News Building stands today - or a station at Ninth and green Streets. To permit the P&R to bring its trains to 12th and Market, as proposed, would be a boon to the traveling public and Center City merchants alike. But there was no moving the administration from its determined and curiously silent opposition to the railroad's request.
It was against that powerful obstruction that The Inquirer turned its batteries. Every day it asked questions: Who was behind the opposition? Why was the administration obdurate in its refusal to discuss the matter? What were the inducements that produced adverse councilmanic votes? More than that, The Inquirer answered its own questions so convincingly that, throughout the city, indignation grew against the administration. After a brief battle, the administration gave in. The Inquirer still rode herd on the matter, however. And in scrutinizing the bill authorizing the extension of the tracks to 12th and Market, it found several clauses that, to put it politely, were prejudicial to the best interests of the taxpayers. The paper demanded removal of the clauses, and this was done. For some time thereafter, bilious politicos referred to Inquirer reporters on the City Hall beat as "Elverson's snoops" - a flattering tag, considering the source, one reporter said.
The project shot down by The Inquirer was the plot - packaged as a "municipal improvement" - to sell to the city for $5 million the virtually abandoned Schuylkill Canal to serve as the source of Philadelphia's water supply. Competition between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Pennsylvania & Reading Railway had all but finished the canal, which extended from Philadelphia to Reading along the Schuylkill, as a transportation revenue-producer. The scheme was to have the city take over this "dead horse" at a fancy price, which would yield handsome slices of graft to those who had rigged it. The enterprise was well-oiled before it was made public and it seemed to be practically a sure thing until The Inquirer stepped in.
Elverson created a task force to investigate the project, heading it himself. Carefully chosen reporters, engineers and photographers were assigned to survey the entire route of the canal. Others did more conventional legwork. It was a wondrously tight operation, for no hint of the inquiry came until a complete report, occupying seven columns, appeared in The Inquirer, accompanied by a devastating editorial. The report revealed hundreds of sources of pollution, the meagerness of the water supply and the folly of the plan overall. Photographs supported the text, and the engineers added their expert condemnation of the project. That one broadside, carefully planned and aimed, killed the scheme and disgraced the schemers.
Stretching beyond city issues
In 1891, The Inquirer stirred things up on the international level. It made an editorial demand for the return of the body of a young U.S. sailor who had been killed in an anti-American riot in Valparaiso, Chile. The newspaper found a friend in Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who as a young man had been a teacher at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, now known as the Overbrook School for the Blind, and had been a stringer for The Inquirer.
The sailor was Boatswain's Mate Thomas Riggin, 19, from Philadelphia. During a debate in Congress about the Valparaiso incident, there was uttered a cynical remark that "he was only a boatswain's mate." The Inquirer demanded that full honors be paid Riggin and that his body be brought home immediately. Blaine directed that this be done. Chile was required to pay an indemnity to the sailor's parents, as well as the cost of transporting the body to Philadelphia.
Here, thousands of Philadelphians turned out for a procession with the flag-draped coffin at its head. At Independence Hall, the coffin was placed beneath the Liberty Bell, and the body lay in state for 24 hours. It is said to have been the nation's first tribute on such a scale to an enlisted man.
Not long thereafter, The Inquirer stirred the public imagination in another way. It called for the creation of a great boulevard extending diagonally from City Hall northwestward, connecting the heart of the city with Fairmount Park by a parkway. It was, scoffers said, "a radical idea," and it took a long time to flower but there it is today.
Five years after Elverson's arrival, The Inquirer had outgrown its plant. In December 1894 it moved into its new home at 1109 Market St. Management felt that this-property was large enough to handle anticipated growth far into the future- But within a few years it became necessary to acquire the adjacent 1111 and 1113 Market St. to provide room for further expansion of the editorial, business and mechanical departments.
Elverson had a flair for promotion. In 1900 he helped sponsor flights by octogenarian aeronaut Samuel A. King in a balloon named "Inquirer." With King on those trips aloft went photographers William Nicholson Jennings. In 1893, Jennings had made the first photographic negatives of Philadelphia from the sky, and Elverson wanted additional aerial photographs for the newspaper.
In his autobiography, Jennings told of the time the balloon passed over a farm somewhere in southern New Jersey. In the barnyard was a man in a straw hat. Through a megaphone, King shouted to him: "I say, WHERE ARE WE?" Looking up, the man yelled back, "Up in a balloon, you damn fool!"
Before he died in early 1911, Elverson had restored The Inquirer to both prestige and profitability. Once, he was asked for his formula for success. Elverson shook his head. "I cannot give you a formula," he said. "I can only tell you that I have succeeded in life because I was determined to win, and to use only honorable means to do so."
A new publisher
James Elverson Jr., his father's right-hand man for years, became publisher. Widely known as Colonel Elverson because of an honorary staff position held under two Pennsylvania governors, he had been thoroughly grounded in the newspaper business. He started as an advertising solicitor, then worked as a reporter. He came off the street to work in the pressroom and later held administrative positions in the editorial and advertising departments.
He never forgot his training. One evening when he was at the height of his prominence as one of the city's movers and shakers, the Colonel was dining at the Union League when a fire broke out across the street. He telephoned his city editor to tell him of the blaze. The city editor said he would dispatch a reporter immediately.
"Never mind," the publisher said, recalling his early training and realizing that he could get to the fire scene in a jiffy. "I'll do it myself."
Under Col. Elverson, The Inquirer increased its political clout in the predominantly Republican commonwealth until it came to be called the "Republican Bible of Pennsylvania." As his father had done, the Colonel backed many projects for "the best and broadest interests of the city and state." He fought, for example, for a municipal art museum just as hard as his father had pushed for the parkway that would lead to the museum's site at Fairmount. Also, The Inquirer campaigned successfully for construction of the Broad Street Subway, and it led the battle for regional planning and development of the tri-state area. Its news coverage was impressive, too. An example was the job reporter Richard J. Beamish did in covering the Scopes evolution trial in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. The sainted H.L. Mencken, who covered the same trial for the Baltimore Sun papers, wrote later that "Dick Beamish's work was of the first chop."
The Inquirer more than kept pace with the mechanical age. It went in for motor trucks and color printing. Again it became too large for its clothes. A new building was needed. So Col. Elverson bought ground at the northwest corner of Broad and Callowhill Streets, extending from Broad to 15th Street, a part of the depressed right-of-way for railway tracks of the Reading Co.
The project posed an engineering and architectural problem: suspension of the structure above the tracks in such a way that vibration from loaded freight trains would not affect the building. In itself, this was not a new venture in engineering or architecture.
The new challenge was to provide for the immense floor load of the pressroom with the hundreds of tons of dead weight of the presses and stereotyping equipment approximately two floors above street level. Construction of the $10 million building began in July 1923 and was completed two years later. On July 13, 1925, the first issue of The Inquirer produced there came off the huge presses that were visible from the street. Called the Elverson Building - later the Inquirer Building and now the Inquirer-Daily News Building -it was heralded as the most modern and completely equipped newspaper plant in the world.
The building, with its 304-foot lantern tower, is a Philadelphia landmark. Today, all of its 18 floors are used for business, but in the early years the 12th and 13th floors were given over wholly to living quarters for Col. Elverson and his wife. Sumptuously appointed, these apartments were decorated with the Colonel's art collection, which included five Corots. In addition to being a patron of the arts, Elverson was a yachtsman; he maintained two yachts for himself and one for his wife.
The man's lifestyle got him pegged as a playboy, and to a considerable extent the tag was merited. Yet, to borrow historian Wainwright's line, "no matter how hard he played, his life centered around The Inquirer." It was, in fact, at his apartment in the Elverson Building that he died of a heart attack one evening in early 1929.
Ownership of the paper passed to Elverson's sister, Eleanor Elverson Patenotre, widow of Jules Patenotre, onetime ambassador of France to the United States. She and her son, Raymond Patenotre, publisher of a chain of French newspapers, came to the United States, intent on disposing of The Inquirer. Mme. Patenotre simply wasn't interested in managing the paper. Her son, at some other time, might have undertaken the task; at this time, however, he was busy developing his chain back home.
When the Patenotres returned to France a month or so later, they had reorganized The Inquirer's capital structure and made 49 percent of the stock available to employees and the public. And they had put the majority interest up for sale.
On March 5, 1930, that controlling interest was bought by Curtis-Martin Newspapers Inc. through its publication the Public Ledger. Reportedly, the price was $11 million -half in cash, the remainder in promissory notes. The president of the purchasing company was Cyrus H.K. Curtis, also head of the Curtis Publishing Co. (which published the Saturday Evening Post) and the publisher of the Public Ledger, the Evening Ledger and the New York Evening Post.
The nation was beginning to feel the pinch of the Depression, and by the time Curtis died in 1933, the economy was in shambles. On April 16, 1934, the Public Ledger, morning and Sunday editions, was merged with The Inquirer. Six months later, when Curtis-Martin defaulted in payment of maturity notes, the merged paper reverted to the Patenotre family and the Elverson Corp. resumed control. Thus was the number of morning newspapers in Philadelphia reduced to two: The Inquirer and the Record. In the afternoon field were the Evening Public Ledger, the Evening Bulletin and the Daily News.
Charles A. Tyler, a Public Ledger man who had come to The Inquirer with the merger, was elected president of The Inquirer Co. He was in charge until Aug. 5, 1936, when the paper was sold to M.L. Annenberg, who became chairman and publisher. Tyler stayed on as president, with the publisher's son, Walter H. Annenberg, becoming vice president.
A new owner
M.L. Annenberg, who paid $12 million for the paper, was a man of vast experience in the publications field. He had been a newsboy in Chicago, a Hearst executive, a publisher and an owner. An immigrant from East Prussia, he had progressed rapidly from his newsboy days. After a long association with William Randolph Hearst, climaxed by his being named general circulation manager or all Hearst newspapers and periodicals, he resigned in 1926 to devote his time to his personal enterprises, which included the Daily Racing Form and the New York Morning Telegraph.
When Annenberg bought The Inquirer, it trailed its direct competitor, the Record, in weekday circulation. The figures were Record, 328,322, Inquirer 280,093. (Sundays, The Inquirer led, 669,152 to 369,525.) Since the death of Col. Elverson seven years earlier, leadership at The Inquirer often had been less than clearly defined, and the product had suffered accordingly. There was a listlessness among The Inquirer's editors that grew more pervasive as the Depression deepened. In fact, the world Depression did not appear in The Inquirer, and there was no reference to unemployment statistics. As biographer John Cooney wrote in his The Annenbergs: The Salvaging of a Tainted Dynasty, the men in charge during the period between Elverson and M.L. Annenberg chose simply to ignore the bleak economic news of the time. They reiterated this policy daily as they lunched together at the Union League, assuring one another that for the common good it was best to keep bad tidings out of the paper. Virtually the only deviation was the handling of bank failures, which could not be swept completely under the rug. When a bank went under, it was accorded several paragraphs in the back of the paper.
All this changed when Annenberg took over. From the moment he arrived, there was no doubt who was the boss. Annenberg added new features, brought in new staffers, offered premiums that were particularly attractive to women. As esprit de corps grew, the rivalry with the Record heated up. The Record was located just a half-block down Broad Street in what now is an apartment structure, the Packard Building, and the windows of each paper's city room were clearly visible from the other's. As the competition juices flowed, there developed a duel of keep-the-lights-on. The idea was to pin down the other side by making it appear that you just might be about to make a lift on your final edition -and, naturally, the other side didn't want to be beaten. It became almost a point of honor in both camps not to turn off the city room lights and go home until the other side did. Also, there were frequent accusations by both sides that copyboys from the opposition were sneaking over and filching copies of the bulldog edition for the purpose of stealing stories.
In news coverage, The Inquirer earned high marks in May 1937, when the German dirigible Hindenburg exploded and burned, with a loss of 36 lives, while attempting a mooring at Lakehurst, N.J. The Inquirer had two reporters and two photographers at Lakehurst to report the arrival (transatlantic passenger traffic by air was still unusual in 1937) and little more than an hour after the explosion they were joined by three other reporters and a photographer flown to the site from old Boulevard Airport in a chartered aircraft.
The Inquirer's circulation climbed. Let the figures tell the story. By November 1938, just a bit more than two years after the arrival of Annenberg, The Inquirer's daily circulation had risen to 345,422 and its Sunday circulation to 1,035,871, while the Record's daily average had dropped 37 percent to about 204,000 and its Sunday average to 362,783. Both papers in the meantime had increased their daily price to 3 cents.
It was this increase in Inquirer circulation that, according to some, brought on M.L. Annenberg's difficulties with the federal government - difficulties that resulted in his pleading guilty to charges of income tax evasion and being sent to prison. Some observers said that Annenberg was more sinned against than sinning. At worst, they said, he would have escaped with a fine in civil court but for his political enemies. These foes, it was felt, feared that Annenberg's growing, improved publication would overshadow the Record, the city's Democratic newspaper, which spoke for the administrations in both Washington and Harrisburg. Annenberg went to prison in 1940, remaining until not long before he died in 1942.
Annenberg's son takes over
On M.L. Annenberg's death, his son, Walter, assumed the top spot. Walter Annenberg was on leave from The Inquirer during World War II, serving in the Navy. When he returned, there was one fewer newspaper in town than there were when he left. The Evening Public Ledger had bowed out. Then, in 1947, The Inquirer became the sole morning publication in the city when the Record, weakened by a protracted strike, sold its assets to the Bulletin and went out of business. After the Record went down, The Inquirer editorially became an "independent newspaper," rather than a GOP-oriented one. In the Clark-Dilworth reform of 1951, in which the Republican machine was beaten after 67 years in power, The Inquirer backed the Democratic candidates.
During World War II, The Inquirer was represented in the field by one of the war's most distinguished correspondents, Ivan H. "Cy" Peterman, who had been a topnotch sports columnist. Peterman was at Anzio and Normandy, and slogged through France and Germany with the Allied forces en route to Berlin. When the United Nations was formed, he covered the early meetings, then was The Inquirer's U.N. correspondent for several years. It should be noted that no one ever had reason to suspect Cy Peterman of introversion, so his continual contacts with leaders at the United Nations were food for the ego. So much so that a colleague once remarked, "Being up here has made Cy slightly insufferable, but I've got to hand it to the sonuvabitch - he does a good job."
Finally, as part of a retrenchment move during the postwar recession of the early 1950s, Walter Annenberg asked Peterman to return to home base and resume writing his sports column. Peterman balked and left the paper. He eventually became the spokesman for the insurance industry in Pennsylvania.
In a series that ran shortly after the war, The Inquirer was able to have one of its own staffers tell how it was to have been in a Japanese prison camp for more than two years. Frank O'Gara, an Inquirer sports writer, was in the Merchant Marine and was aboard a Liberty ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific. Picked up by a Japanese vessel, he was taken to Japan and put in prison. His subsequent series, done in collaboration with George Mawhinney, a fine feature writer, attracted much attention.
In 1948, Annenberg, who was about to launch TV Guide, constructed a sprawling new building adjacent to the tower building on Broad Street. The structure housed rotogravure presses used to print Sunday Inquirer roto sections as well as TV Guide and Seventeen, another Annenberg publication. Today the building is used by the Inquirer and Daily News advertising department.
The Daily News became a stablemate of The Inquirer in 1957 when it was acquired by the Annenberg interests. Under neither Annenberg nor Knight Newspapers nor Knight-Ridder Inc., however, have the two papers ever functioned in tandem editorially.
Annenberg had numerous detractors during his regime at The Inquirer. The most pervasive criticism was that he used his newspaper as a personal vehicle for rewarding those he favored and inflicting punishment on those in his disfavor. Detractors point to "The List" -reputedly, a listing of people who, having incurred the publisher's enmity for one reason or another, were not to be mentioned in the paper. Also, there were charges concerning the slanting of news, of which the "Shapp Story" is illustrative.
Annenberg was less than enamored of the candidacy of Milton J. Shapp for governor of Pennsylvania in 1966 on the Democratic ticket. One day, an Inquirer reporter asked Shapp whether he had ever been a patient in a mental hospital. Having never been in such an institution, the candidate quite naturally said no, and the conversation moved to other things. The next day, a news story and its headline "Shapp Denies Ever Having Been in a Mental Home" - gave the matter an emphasis more than somewhat out of proportion.
For the record, Shapp was defeated in the gubernatorial election of 1966 - but won in 1970 and again in 1974.
People who know Annenberg say that one of his shortcomings is a shyness, often mistaken for aloofness, that makes it difficult for him to mingle with people he does not know well. It would appear that such was the case in his relatively few contacts with his employees at The Inquirer and Daily News. Somewhat in the manner of Col. Elverson before him, he maintained a plush suite of offices on the 12th floor, and, except for a select few, no one was permitted to go there unbidden. Occasionally, Annenberg would leave the 12th floor and go to the Inquirer city room on the fifth floor to chat with editors and reporters, but always there was a stiffness apparent.
"The man wants to be friendly," a longtime editor named Guy "Stud" Norton once said. "It's just that he can't get the motor running."
In 1958, The Inquirer was hit by a strike that lasted 38 days. On Day 37, after a meeting of the members of the striking Newspaper Guild in a labor hall near Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue, somebody got the idea of marching enmasse down the street to the newspaper building. This was done, with a flag-carrying member leading the way and everybody chanting slogans, some of them uncomplimentary to the man on the 12th floor.
Peering down as the marchers approached, Annenberg is said to have demanded of one of his advisers why "they" (his employees out on the bricks) disliked him. It was principally a matter of money, the adviser is said to have replied. Money? How much do they want, and how much are we offering? Answers are forthcoming, and shortly things begin to pop. The next morning, every striker gets a telephone call from strike headquarters, urging him or her to attend a Guild meeting that afternoon to consider "a new contract offer." Before sundown, the strike ends. It is a long time, though, before Annenberg again visits the city room.
One of the deepest wounds suffered by Annenberg was inflicted by a trusted employee named Harry Karafin in the late '50s and early '60s. Karafin was a highly paid investigative reporter who found it more profitable to suppress stories than to write them. Sometimes introducing himself as "Walter Annenberg's hatchetman," Karafin would approach certain individuals or organizations and state that he had come upon information that could prove harmful, should it be made public. To forestall such a happening, he would continue archly, a sort of super public-relations watchman was needed. The bottom line was that in exchange for a monthly retainer, Karafin promised to see to it that not only would the information at hand be suppressed but that there would be no problems in the future.
Astonishingly, this went on for about eight years before anyone blew the whistle. Either the victims felt they had something to hide or they didn't want to risk a public rhubarb. Once the whistle was blown, a lot of victims came running to offer evidence. Convicted of extortion in 1968, Karafin was sent to prison, where he died in 1973.
In 1962, The Inquirer laid claim to being "the oldest daily newspaper in the United States founded 1771." A line to that effect appeared in the paper's Page One flag for the next 13 years. A local historian, commissioned by The Inquirer, laboriously constructed a "family tree" that purported to show that The Inquirer was the successor through a series of acquisitions to the Pennsylvania Packet or General Advertiser, first published Oct. 28, 1771.
In 1968, Richard M. Nixon was elected president of the United States, and Walter H. Annenberg, a backer and close friend of Nixon's over the years, realized a long-held ambition. He was appointed this country's ambassador to the Court of St. James's, the plum of the diplomatic service. Off he went to London, leaving behind a newspaper that clearly was in a down cycle. Across town, the Bulletin was well ahead of The Inquirer in daily circulation (648,000 to 473,000), although The Inquirer managed to hold its Sunday lead at 905,000 to 714,000- but slipping. The Inquirer was still operating in the black, but advertising volume was dropping.
Then, in the autumn of 1969, it was announced that Annenberg had sold The Inquirer, along with the Daily News, to Knight Newspapers Inc., one of the nation's largest newspaper chains and destined to become even larger through a 1974 merger with the Ridder Publishing Co. The price was $55 million, and the change of ownership took place Jan. 1, 1970.
Earlier, Annenberg had received an offer of $55 million from Samuel Newhouse, head of the Newhouse newspaper chain. As a further inducement, Newhouse said that Annenberg could stay on as publisher for life. Annenberg put Newhouse on hold. Years earlier, at a Gridiron dinner in Washington, D.C., he had promised John S. Knight, head of Knight Newspapers, to give Knight first opportunity to buy if he ever decided to sell The Inquirer.
"I am obligated as a gentleman to keep my word and tell Knight about your offer," Annenberg explained to Newhouse. The rest, as they say, is history.
Two stipulations of the sale to Knight were that Annenberg be paid a consultant's fee of $150,000 a year for 10 years and that his name be carried in The Inquirer's masthead as "Editor and Publisher Emeritus." The latter situation lasted only a few months, as Annenberg became increasingly unhappy with the changes that were being made to the newspaper he had operated for three decades. Finally, there came the day in May 1970, after The Inquirer had published an editorial highly critical of President Nixon, when the ambassador telephoned from London to demand that his name be stripped from the masthead.
The Knight era
Beginning the new era, a Knight subsidiary, Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., was established. From corporate headquarters in Miami, Fla., Knight sent in as executive editor John McMullan, 51, who had been executive editor of the Miami Herald. In the fall of 1972, McMullan was transferred to Miami to become a vice president for business operations of Knight Newspapers. Later, before he retired, he would serve again as executive editor of the Miami Herald.
In choosing an executive editor of The Inquirer to succeed McMullan, Knight turned to 40year-old Eugene L. Roberts Jr., national editor of the New York Times. Roberts, who later became president of The Inquirer in addition to being executive editor, joined forces with a fellow North Carolinian, Sam S. McKeel, who had become general manager of the newspaper in 1971. In 1986 McKeel was named publisher of The Inquirer and Daily News, a position he held until he retired in June 1989 to become president and chief executive officer of the Sun Times Co. in Chicago. In April 1990, Robert J, Hall, publisher of the Detroit Free Press and former chief financial officer for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., was named publisher of The Inquirer and the Daily News. Hall, a native Philadelphian and a graduate of Drexel University, first joined PNI as controller in 1973. In July 1990, Roberts retired after 18 years to devote his time to teaching, writing and travel. Hall named as his successor Maxwell E.P. King, who was an Inquirer reporter and editor 15 years before moving to the business side for three years as senior vice president for consumer marketing and distribution,.
In 1982, Advertising Age magazine was to state: "The Philadelphia Inquirer, a little more than a decade ago a journalistic embarrassment, has become one of the country's top papers, In fact, for its size and for what it attempts, it can be argued The Inquirer now can lay legitimate claim to being the country's best city newspaper," In 1984, when Time magazine chose The Inquirer as one of the 10 best dailies in the United States, it called the transformation of the paper "one of the most remarkable turnarounds, in quality and profitability, in the history of American journalism."
Distance does not dissuade The Inquirer in its coverage of the news. When Soviet occupation forces evacuated Afghanistan in 1988, The Inquirer had a staff writer and a photographer there. When the Ayatollah Khomeini died in Iran in the spring of 1989, The Inquirer covered the funeral. And when, at practically the same time, the Chinese student protest -followed by the slaughter of hundreds of the protesters by government troops -broke out in Beijing, The Inquirer had three staffers covering the scene from Tiananmen Square to the countryside,
One of The Inquirer's trademarks established by Roberts is its exhaustive coverage of stories, When the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant had a near meltdown in 1979, The Inquirer put 80 reporters, editors and photographers on the story - nearly all of its local staff at the time. They divided themselves into three teams and produced, among other things, a riveting, 20,000word "tick-tock" account in five days that ran nine full pages in the Sunday paper, and helped win a Pulitzer Prize for special local reporting. It was a team effort, In recognition, a framed copy of the Pulitzer award certificate was presented to every staffer who worked on the story; on each was a small plate bearing the inscription "To (NAME), with thanks from Gene Roberts and your newsroom colleagues."
The Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on Three Mile Island, awarded to The Inquirer in 1980, was one of 17 Pulitzers the newspaper received between 1975 and 1990. In the spring of 1990. Inquirer staffer Gilbert Gaul won the paper's 17th Pulitzer, for exposing lax federal regulation in the blood industry.
In that 1975-90 span, The Inquirer won more national journalism awards than any other newspaper in the country. Among them, in addition to the Pulitzers, were the Roy W. Howard A ward, the Ernie Pyle Memorial A ward, the University of Missouri Medal, the Robert Kennedy Award for Photojournalism, the National Headliners Award, the Thomas L. Stokes Award, the George Polk Award, the Heywood Broun Award, the George Loeb Award and numerous awards in various categories from the Society of Professional Journalists, Several were won more than once.
Not always did things go smoothly during the McKeel-Roberts years. In the area of labor-management relations, the problem of work stoppages arose from time to time. Between 1970 and 1985, there were 11 strikes of varying lengths; the longest, in 1985, lasted 46 days.
However, in 1989 PNI and its 10 union locals, four months before contract deadlines, successfully concluded negotiations for new contracts extending to September 1993.
In the early '70s, The Inquirer was running 176,000 behind the Bulletin in daily circulation, while holding a Sunday lead of 151,000. There began a no-holds-barred struggle that saw The Inquirer drive steadily forward until in July 1980 it gained the daily lead and increased its Sunday lead to 420,000. At that point, nearly everybody in Philadelphia knew that the Bulletin was doomed. And when it folded in January 1982, The Inquirer was ready. It hired 95 more editorial staffers, bringing the total to above 400, and increased the news hole 20 percent. Coverage of every area, from food to foreign affairs, was expanded, part of the campaign to win over former Bulletin readers.
To cover the news equally well in Karachi and Kensington, the paper has bureaus in Moscow, London, Berlin, Johannesburg, Cairo, Manila, Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, .New Orleans, Boston, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Trenton and Atlantic City. And, since 1982, The Inquirer has added nine "Neighbors" sections - tabloid sections aimed at particular areas of suburbia and the Northeast section of the city. There are five in the Pennsylvania suburbs, three in the New Jersey suburbs and one in Northeast Philadelphia.
The Inquirer's staff has continued to grow and its members are ever being encouraged to raise their sights, to peer beyond the horizon, to do the kind of indepth reporting that has become an Inquirer hallmark.