The first issue of The New York Times (then called the New-York Daily Times) was published on September 18, 1851—exactly 164 years ago. In honor of the anniversary, the Observer decided to look through the digital edition of the inaugural issue, which cost one cent and clocked in at four pages of densely spaced text, to see what was making headlines.
Here’s what we found in the archives:
- The new publication featured a mission statement, which promised to make “as good a newspaper in all respects, and in many a much better one, than those hitherto offered to the New York public.” It also promised to “seldom trouble readers” with the paper’s internal affairs and included the period-appropriate detail that the paper would not publish on Sundays.
- “The News from Europe” took up much of the front page. Among the headlines: Queen Victoria’s trip to Scotland, a drought in Spain and new censorship regulations in Tuscany.
- The only non-blurb story on page one was a report on a fugitive slave riot in Lancaster County, PA in which “sixty or eighty armed blacks” fired on a group of white men. Thirty-four of the black men were arrested for treason, and Gov. William F. Johnston offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest of the other guilty parties.
- Sections weren’t really a thing. Page two, for example, featured an update on New York politics, an editorial on Cuba and a list of recent deaths.
- Page three featured the continuation of the fugitive slave story, along with some classified-style “special notices.” In a stark reminder that this was before the days of newsroom bureaus, the page also included “News By The Mails,” featuring reports from around the country on news large and small. Highlights include an “exhibition” of the thieves of Boston, in which criminals were paraded throughout the city and told to “sin no more.”
- The back page closed things out with reports on the New York State Fair, President Millard Fillmore’s speech at the Boston Jubilee, and “Marine Intelligence” blurbs about ships docked in New York.
Although there were no trend stories yet, we bet the monocle was a real thing back then and that people were already moving to Brooklyn. In any event, the Gray Lady doesn’t look a day over 163.