Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Boston Globe on March 5, 1972, in celebration of the Globe’s centennial on March 4, 1972.
By the hindsight of a century, it is strange that The Boston Globe was ever started. Not one of the little group of rich men who committed jointly $150,000 to incorporate it had ever run a newspaper.
Boston then, as for most of the century ahead, already had more newspapers than it could support.
The wise money in Boston was going into railroads and western real estate.
Had any of the half dozen prominent businessmen who gathered with Lewis Rice in his handsome new American House on the evening of Feb. 7, 1872, consulted his State Street broker, he would surely have been advised against so precarious a venture.
Bankers would remember, if those merchants did not, the fiasco of the last ambitious venture in Boston newspapering.
But Stephen Niles, the pioneer advertising man who had brought the group together at the American House, knew that Boston journalism was rated as undistinguished among the big cities and that half or more of the existing papers were moribund.
Niles’s literary friend Maturin Ballou had convinced him that there was a place for a superior newspaper. Boston’s port and commerce were flourishing. The city had grown 40 percent in its last decade to a population of 250,000 in a metropolitan area of half a million.
None of Niles’s converts noted that most of this population growth was of Irish immigrants, not yet doing much reading of the sedately dull journals of the time.
Only Jordan held firm
The national political stagnation of Grant’s period was paralleled in journalism. Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, had died only that year. James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald, and Henry Raymond, first editor of the New York Times, had died two years before.
Leadership and innovation were at a standstill. The new breed had not yet arrived to change the face and dimensions of the newspaper. Joseph Pulitzer was still editing a German newspaper in St. Louis.
In Boston 26-year-old Chas. H. Taylor was struggling to get on his feet as a publisher of a new monthly magazine.
Rising commercialism dominated the city’s life. The literary lights who had given Boston its claim as the Athens of America had had little enough contact with the counting room journalism of the period. They had contributed their talents to the Atlantic Monthly, now 15 years along in sustaining the cultural tradition.
The notion that Boston needed a new newspaper was Maturin Ballou’s. Son and grandson of noted New England clergymen, at 51 he was a man of letters and a man of affairs who had published several books of travel and history, a monthly magazine, and the first substantial illustrated weekly. He was also in real estate and had built a fine modern hotel, the St. James, in fashionable Franklin Square, that later became the Franklin Square House, a sedate rooming house for working girls.
His son, Murray, was already, at 31, president of the new Boston Stock Exchange. Both men were in the group at the American House that February evening. With them was Stephen Niles, who had begun vigorously promoting the planned newspaper. The others were men of substance who had put up $10,000 or $15,000 apiece of the original $100,000 capital for the project.
Within a week this was found to be insufficient and they raised it to $150,000. Considering the capitalization of the other papers, $150,000 looked like a lot. But it wasn’t. It was all gone within a year; a deep depression then set in to erode the rest. The contributors might as well have given twice as much, for within months fire and panic had depleted their fortunes and wiped some out.
But all looked rosy that evening — a timely moment to glance at these entrepreneurs of a new newspaper because none of them would be aboard by the time it turned the corner from bankruptcy to success under a quite different concept from theirs of what a new Boston newspaper should be.
The only one of the original incorporators to stay the course was a man not present that night: Eben D. Jordan, from Maine, self-made merchant prince of Boston as the founder of Jordan and Marsh. Mr. Jordan was to bail out this newspaper enterprise a few years later, seeing it through to a great estate for his heirs.
One other founder absent from the gathering was Cyrus Wakefield, for whom the town of Wakefield had just changed its name (from South Reading) in recognition of his flourishing rattan factory there and his local benefactions. Mr. Wakefield lived only another year and a half but long enough for his fortune, rated at $4,000,000, to be wiped out in the panic of 1873, leaving his estate insolvent.
Those present that night besides Niles and the Ballous were: Lewis Rice, affable hotel man with not only the finest hostelry in Boston but in it the first passenger elevator in the city; Seman Klous, wealthy furrier and real estate man; Samuel A. Carlton, leading manufacturer of matches and president of the National Security Bank; Dr. Henry E. Townsend, Harvard College and Harvard Medical School graduate who had turned to business and become president of the Shoe Machinery Manufacturing Company, a familiar and popular figure in Boston clubs and society.
These men and Jordan and Wakefield, having become incorporators of the Globe Publishing Company, met to discuss plans for the new newspaper, already announced to appear within a month, on March 4.
They intended to produce a better newspaper for Boston and expected it to be profitable; they were to prove wrong on both counts. But there is nothing unique about that. Men more experienced in publishing have found it easy to drop fortunes in failing to launch a newspaper.
Their affair with journalism was progressing. Niles had started a circular to prospective advertisers emphasizing that the new Globe would have “abundant capital,” that its backers were ‘names synonymous with enterprise and progress.” The extensive advertising he had placed in papers throughout the region announced “New Departure—Something New in Journalism.”
This was to be “a commercial and business journal of the first class” and “of plain and outspoken independence.” It was to sell at the price of the quality papers, four cents. The Herald was printing more news than an of them at two cents, but The Globe offered eight pages to the others’ four, to claim “double the reading matter of any other New England daily.”
It had been arranged that three of the five floors in the building the Transcript had just vacated would be taken over; then numbered 90-92 Washington St., it was renumbered two years later as 238-240. This, with its successors and expansions, was to be the home of The Boston Globe for 86 years. Not Maturin Ballou’s Globe, though—that faded faster than the pale daguerreotypes of the period.
Niles assured advertisers that the new Globe would quickly achieve a circulation marched by few other newspapers. The Herald then had nearly 90,000, the Traveller and the Advertiser about 17,000 each, the Journal something in between. Ballou’s Globe never got much over 5000.
Ballou’s Globe made its first appearance Monday evening, March 4, 1872, in the genteel form of the “semi-literary” newspaper he had described. Eight pages of seven-column width at four cents.
But even Brahmin Beacon Hill couldn’t use more than one Transcript a day. The new paper made so little impact. A. A. Fowle recalls, that even after two years the manager of a local public event, when called upon for news by a Globe reporter, asked, “The Globe? What’s that?”
One more paper wasn’t enough different to matter, and the city was so oversupplied with newspapers seeking advertising support that the new paper had a thin time. Even after several years it was managing to attract only 15 columns of advertising in a 56-column paper.
But the Ballou management didn’t last several years; it began falling apart almost at once. Between March and October its $150,000 capital shrank to $30,000 and was draining away every week.
By the following June Maturin Ballou gave up the task of trying to make The Globe go. In September he and his son and Klous sold their Globe shares. Even before the editor resigned it had become evident that a business manager would be needed if the paper was to be saved.
The proprietors turned to young Chas. H. Taylor, then struggling to restore his American Homes magazine whose plant and equipment, stock and manuscripts had all been wiped out in the great fire. Taylor declined. His excuse was that the legislature was in session and he had been elected its clerk, a position that paid three times as much as he had been paid as a representative; but the incorporators must have realized that the young publisher considered Ballou’s Globe a hopeless proposition.
When in June Ballou resigned they tried Taylor again, and this time he agreed, tentatively, to try it. Ballou’s departure had brought a sharp sea change in The Globe, so sharp as to suggest that internal conflict preceded his going.
The Globe front page looked distinctly different. The news was outside. The sermons and art and book notes were inside. City editor Wason was made managing editor, and he began at once to make a livelier newspaper.
Chas. H. Taylor (he never used Charles) came aboard in August “for a few weeks” and never left.
The brief tryout he allowed himself led to his election as a director of the company in November.
In the next two weeks he was elected clerk of the corporation, acquired 20 shares of Globe stock ($100 a share at the start) and on Dec. 6, 1873, signed a contract as “general manager of The Globe” for two years.
On the same day a new editor was appointed, Edwin Munroe Bacon, at 29 just two years older than Taylor but already a newspaperman of ten years’ experience. He was then New England correspondent of the New York Times, as Taylor has been of the New York Tribune. Well acquainted, each appreciated the other’s quality and agreed that together they could make a team to pull The Globe up.
Top newsman at 23
They had practically to start over. Ballou’s star cast had mostly left. Without capital but with youth and energy and confidence, Taylor and Bacon combined editorial and publishing experience.
Veterans already, in their twenties, they were thorough pros — and they needed it all in the rough time ahead, for one month after young Taylor moved into The Globe office the financial house of Jay Cooke & Co. crashed with a thunder that echoed through the financial world. The panic of 1873 was on and its depression was due to last pretty much through the decade of the 1870’s.
This was the spot that Chas. H. Taylor stepped into on The Globe. Born in 1846, the eldest of seven children of John Ingalls Taylor and Abigail Russell Hapgood, a Marlboro girl, he had grown up in the shadow of Bunker Hill Monument. The family lived close by the Charlestown Navy Yard, where John Ingalls Taylor was employed. His father, John Taylor, a Salem man, had served on a privateer in the War of 1812. Charles Taylor went through the Winthrop Grammar School and one year of Charlestown High School.
At 15 he found himself a job in a Boston print shop and in a few months was able to shift to the Boston Traveller as printer’s devil. But it was 1862, and young Taylor enlisted. As a private in Co. F, 38th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, he served under Gen. Nathaniel Banks in the Army of the Gulf and took part in that army’s disastrous assaults on Port Hudson.
Wounded, he mustered out in the fall of 1863 and returned, a 17-year-old veteran, to resume his printer’s apprenticeship on the Traveller at $5 a week. He became a journeyman printer and by volunteering for extra reporting made himself at 19 a regular staff member.
Five months before his twenty first birthday he married Georgiana Olivia Davis, the girl he had left behind when he went off to war. They set up housekeeping with his family in Charlestown.
Needing added income, he obtained the position of Boston correspondent for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. He had qualified for the job by his own initiative: sent by the Traveller to report the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, he heard its president, William Lloyd Garrison, surprise the meeting by announcing that with emancipation he considered his life work and that of the society completed.
Garrison then gave a valedictory that Taylor got down in full with the shorthand he had picked up by himself. The Traveller didn’t see much in it, but Taylor thought Greeley might and sent it on. Back came a $15 check, and soon after appointment as correspondent, a post worth $1200 a year to Taylor, a good deal more than the Traveller was paying him.
The Tribune job meant covering all major news events in New England. The Tribune correspondent became acquainted with the public men of Boston and Massachusetts. At 23 he was recognized as one of the top newspapermen in Boston. Spurred then by the added responsibility of his first child, Taylor applied for the job of secretary to Gov. William Claflin in 1869 and got it.
With the added security of his State House job, he bought a house in Somerville; it cost $6600, and he was able from his savings to pay down $5000. His new post brought large experience with the Legislature and the public. Gov. Claflin was chairman of the Republican National Committee and fresh from managing the successful 1868 campaign that elected General Grant President.
With this inside track to practical politics, Taylor ran for the Legislature from Somerville the next year and was elected. Somerville was a Republican town and Taylor was elected as a Republican. He left the governor’s office with the title of colonel, which went with the job of military secretary; the title stuck for 20 years until another governor made him General Taylor.
He continued his newspaper work and added a further dimension to it by starting a monthly ten-cent magazine that he called American Homes. In partnership with a printer and wood engraver names A. M. Lunt, he began publishing in summer 1871.
This magazine, aimed at the family, had fiction, poetry, travel stories, departments for boys and girls, and a special “Household” department with fashions, recipes, health notes, and “Sabbath Thoughts.” It was illustrated, and to stimulate circulation his publisher offered an “elegant steel engraving” with each year’s subscription. The magazine found a place. It had a circulation of 10,000 in may 1872 and its October issue announced that it would start its second year with 25,000.
To meet its increased business American Homes had just moved into new quarters with new printing presses when the great Boston fire of November 1872 wiped out everything in the shop.
In this crisis Chas. Taylor had a chance to profit from the extensive legislative acquaintance he had gained as secretary to the governor. The clerkship of the House became vacant. He went after it and in November 1872, at 25, was elected clerk, a post that paid $2500 a year. Undoubtedly a reluctance to walk out from the place his friends had given him was a factor in his first refusal of The Globe offer.
So it was that year after his election as clerk, with a new Legislature coming in, Colonel Taylor came to the Globe to tackle the uphill task of saving a losing enterprise.
A slight, erect figure at 27, only five feet seven inches tall with steady darkbrown eyes under black eyebrows set off by black-rimmed nose glasses, Taylor wore a full black mustache that was amplified in his thirties to a beard framing an impressive countenance. He was already experienced as a soldier, printer, journalist, publisher, politician; to this he now added businessman. He was not without influential friends; for two years earlier he had organized the Middlesex Club, which had grown rapidly in a membership that included political leaders and their supporters in business.
Perhaps the least difficult problem for manager and editor was recruiting a largely new staff. But filling out staff was a far simpler matter than taking charge of a non-existent business office. The books showed the company losing $60,000 a year. The original capital was practically gone. Two months earlier the directors had had to authorize a loan to meet the current demands. Colonel Taylor shouldered the task of meeting the payroll and bills.
Much the largest demand was for paper, Boston’s big paper merchant, Samuel D. Warren, accepted The Globe promissory notes, which soon accumulated to $40,000. Taylor long remembered a brief exchange with Warren:
“That’s fine paper you’re giving us.”
“A damn sight better than the paper you’re giving us,” was Warren’s gruff response.
The Globe’s difficulties increased. By March 1874 its books showed assets of $23,636 against liabilities of $73,624.
To get the paper talked about was a prime consideration for the Colonel, a born promoter. Novelty appealed to him. It took some doing to introduce novelty to The Globe, for Bacon, able editor of his time but a man of little originality, was wholly committed to conventional ways, and he had been appointed editor-in-chief, in complete charge of the editorial and news side. Taylor as business manager was also an experienced newsman, of much livelier mind than his editor; he had also to be persuasive to jog Bacon to innovation.
What pulled The Globe temporarily out of its doldrums that year was the Beecher-Tilton case, the most titillating scandal in years. It provided sensational copy for almost a year, the first five months with charges and countercharges, then six months of trial that ended with a hung jury and with public opinion equally suspended as to whether the most famous preacher in America had been guilty of adultery with a parishoner, wife of a former close associate.
Struggle to keep going
Chas. H. Taylor, watching the red ink spread at the rate of $1200 a week on his books, exerted his authority as business manager to insist on full coverage of the Beecher case and employed nationally noted reporter Joseph Howard Jr., to cover it for The Globe.
In spite of Beecher, and a crowd-pleasing Moody-Sanky religious revival, the annual directors meeting in 1877 had another gloomy report. Three years of hard work had reduced the annual deficit from $60,000 to $10,000. But $200,000 had been sunk in the enterprise, and assets stood at only $83,000 of which $47,000 represented equipment. The corporation owed $78,000, close to $50,000 of this on “notes payable.” Cashier Prescott’s cash balance showed $632.47, about enough for one week’s paper supply.
What saved the situation was a notion Colonel Taylor picked up in Martha’s Vineyard while he was soliciting summer report advertising. The new Martha’s Vineyard Narrow Gauge Railroad had run into unexpected construction costs, had exhausted its capital, and faced bankruptcy or reorganization. Taylor met the railroad manager, who described the answer the railroad had found.
The creditors accepted two-thirds of their bills, with the balance in new stock put up by the original stockholders. Thus cleared of floating debt and interest, the railroad was beginning to show a profit.
Why not such a plan for The Globe, Colonel Taylor wondered.
He consulted Eben Jordan, by then almost the only surviving stockholder. Jordan had taken up the paper of those who opted to get out and sell their shares; he had given Taylor constant support and encouragement; now he promised to back a new financial arrangement to save The Globe.
So Colonel Taylor became nominal owner of The Globe, without an capital in it; Eben Jordan, nominally only a creditor, was in effect the owner. From that deal to salvage the paper, the joint Taylor-Jordan ownership resulted that continued ever after, through the heirs of Chas. Taylor and the estate of Eben Jordan.
Ten years later, Colonel Taylor was able to buy back some of the $100 shares at $575, and later still more at $1000. Jordan had redeemed the shared held by Warren Company. Taylor was evidently deterred by sentiment from trying to buy out his sponsor and friend Eben Jordan.
But on Jordan’s death in 1895, Taylor by agreement purchased enough shares from the Jordan estate to give him exactly one-half ownership of The Globe. Ever since, the Taylor-Jordan equal sharing has continued. But throughout The Globe has remained entirely under Taylor management, now in its fourth generation.
Now a wholly new newspaper came into being, a new kind of newspaper.
With new plans, Colonel Taylor invited editor Bacon to continue with the new paper. But Bacon doubtless realized that he was out of tune with the radical changes Taylor had in mind. Three years later Bacon became editor of the Post and continued to direct that paper through five languishing years until E. A. Grozier bought it to rejuvenate it in 1891.
Bacon then turned to literary work and local history. He died in 1916, a distinguished editor of the old school.
But in 1878 the time had come for a new school.
This series is condensed from “Newspaper Story: 100 Years of The Boston Globe” by Louis M. Lyons, former curator of the Nieman Foundation and published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University.