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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




Today our daily newspapers bring us news from all the world.  How different this is from newspapers of early Iowa.  They were published weekly and had little news from outside of the state or even their own locality.  They championed one political party and expected the men of that party to support them.  For instance, in 1849 a number of Polk County Whigs subscribed nearly $350 as a bonus to anyone who would publish a Whig paper in Fort Des Moines.  Depending upon this and a promise of many subscribers, a man began publishing The Fort Des Moines Gazette.  A year later he quit, saying that of the five hundred Whigs in the county only one hundred twenty-five were subscribers and half of these had not paid their subscriptions.

If the party which a newspaper supported was successful in an election a picture of a crowing rooster would appear on the front page of the next issue.

Editors of early newspapers usually became prominent men in the local community.  They were proud of the articles which they wrote for their papers.  They often made fun of each other and called each other uncomplimentary names.  One editor would often call the editor of another paper a liar, villain, skunk, or blackguard.  One certain paper called another the "loco foco rag."

Many papers were started in pioneer days.  Fourteen had their beginning in Dubuque between 1836 and 1860.  Some of these lasted less than two years.

By 1840 there were a number of such weekly papers in Iowa.  Most of them were of four pages.  They had no headlines, no cartoons, no comics, no large advertisements; and most of their space was taken up with local news.  What little news the papers carried from eastern states or foreign countries was weeks and often months late.

There have been literally hundreds of newspapers in Iowa since pioneer days which have ceased publication or have combined with other papers.  In Des Moines alone, more than twenty newspapers have been from time to time started.  Today our large cities have but one or two daily papers of large circulation.


John King was the first man to enter the newspaper business in Iowa.  He came to Dubuque from Ohio in 1834.  A year later he returned to Cincinnati and in the spring of 1836 bought a Smith press and the type necessary to start printing a small newspaper.  He brought with him, from Ohio, a young man to do the typesetting.

Mr. King called his newspaper the Dubuque Visitor.  Politically it was neutral and had as its motto, "Truth Our Guide - The Public Good Our Aim."  The first issue was dated May 11, 1836, and bore the heading "Dubuque Lead Mines, Wisconsin Territory."  In reality, Dubuque was then a part of the Michigan Territory but was to become part of the newly created Wisconsin Territory on July 4, 1836.

The paper changed hands and names several times in the first five years.  Mr. King was its publisher for only a few months.  When it was a year old it became a Democratic paper.


The first press which John King brought to Dubuque had an interesting and romantic history.  In 1842 it was sold to a man who started a paper in Wisconsin.  From there it went to Saint Paul where it is said to have been used to print the first newspaper in Minnesota.  From Saint Paul it is supposed to have been taken to a place near Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  There it was used by the Dacotah Democrat, the first paper to be published in the unorganized Dacotah Territory.  The Indians attacked and burned that settlement, thereby ruining the press.

This old press thus printed the first newspapers in the Iowa Territory, the Minnesota Territory, and the Dakota Territory.


The second newspaper to make its appearance in Iowa was The Western Adventurer, published by Dr. Isaac Galland at Montrose, Iowa. The first issue was dated June 28, 1837.  This paper was a financial failure.  After a few issues had been printed, it was sold to James G. Edwards, who moved it to Fort Madison.  There, in the spring of 1838, he began publishing the Fort Madison Patriot.

It is said that Chief Black Hawk and his sons watched the printing of the first paper at Fort Madison.  They thought the press a wonderful affair.  Indians were frequent visitors at the Fort Madison printing office and always enjoyed watching the press at work.


The third paper in Iowa had been started in Belmont, Wisconsin, and then was moved to Burlington, Iowa.  It was called the Wisconsin Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser.

Early newspapers often had long names.  The Iowa Sun and the Davenport and Rock Island News was the first paper to be printed in Davenport.  It was started in 1838 and lasted but a few years.

The first newspaper in Des Moines was called The Star.  It began publication in 1849.


The Dubuque Tribune was probably the first daily paper in Iowa.  It began publication on March 26, 1851, and lasted but a short while.  The Daily Miners Express, which started at Dubuque on August 19, 1851, was more successful.

The first regular daily to be published in Des Moines was The State Register, which began daily publication on January 12, 1862.  This paper had obtained the first telegraph news in Iowa in 1860, a feature which soon became important in the daily editions.  The present Register and Tribune is its descendant.


The art of writing first found expression in Iowa through the newspapers.  Here, in small weekly papers, many writers who later became prominent saw their first efforts at writing.  Some of them became Iowa's historians.  Their works have set a high standard for future Iowa writers.

Today Iowa's newspapers are on a high plane.  Some of her weekly papers, as well as her daily papers, have gained national recognition for their excellence.


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