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History of The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun, whose pages have chronicled Maryland life and its institution for generations, whose reporters covered every government and conflict and glory of the city since long before the Civil War, is celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2012.

Ever since Vol. 1, No. 1 rolled off 30-year-old Arunah Shepherdson Abell's press on Wednesday, May 17, 1837, the newspaper has never been without its Sun vignette, or name plate, bearing the words "Light for All."

The concept of "Light For All" embodied Abell's philosophy that his newspaper would cover the news for all, not just for Baltimore's moneyed, banking, legal or merchant classes, but the common masses.

Abell, who had been born and raised in East Providence, R.I., worked as a shipping clerk before becoming an apprentice printer at the Providence Patriot in 1822.

After moving to New York City, Abell became acquainted with Azariah H. Simmons and William M. Swain, with whom he formed a business partnership to publish a penny paper.

They founded the Public Ledger in 1836 in Philadelphia, and a year later, Abell's partners agreed to back him when he proposed starting a penny paper in Baltimore, whose population at the time was 90,000.

"We have resolved upon the experiment of publishing a penny paper, entitled 'The Sun.' ... We shall strive to render it a channel of useful information to every citizen in every department of society whether literary, professional, mercantile, manufacturing or miscellaneous," wrote Abell and his two partners.

The birth of The Sun couldn't have come at a more inauspicious moment as the nation was reeling from the effects of the Panic of 1837, which had resulted in failed banks, inflation, shuttered factories and high unemployment.

At the time, Abell also faced formidable competition, as there were already six papers in the city -- the American, Chronicle, Gazette, Patriot, Republican and Transcript -- that sold for 6 cents a copy. There were also nine weeklies and two monthlies.

Unlike the stuffy and pompous newspapers being published in the city at the time, which were more reflective of opinion rather than hard news, Abell went in a different direction.

He assembled a team of reporters who were responsible for covering the courts, City Hall, meetings, police districts and anything else that was afoot that could be considered news.

Their efforts were very apparent when the first issue of The Sun, whose type most likely had been hand-set by Abell himself, came off the hand-operated press in a small building at 21 Light St. that served as the newspaper's first home.

The first edition of The Sun was four tabloid-sized pages. On Page 2, in a note to readers, Abell laid out what has remained the newspaper's enduring guiding philosophy and course for the past 175 years:

"We shall give no place to religious controversy, nor to political discussions of merely partisan character. On political principles, and questions involving the interest or honor of the whole country, it will be free, firm and temperate. Our object will be the common good, without regard to that of sects, factions or parties; and for this object we shall labor without fear or partiality. The publication of this paper will be continued for one year at least, and the publishers hope to receive, as they will try to deserve, a liberal support."

The 15,000 copies from Abell's initial press run went to every corner of the city.

The Sun made history four months after its founding when it printed, in its entirety, President Martin Van Buren's 12,000-word address to Congress. The text had been rushed to Baltimore by a courier aboard a fast-moving Baltimore & Ohio Railroad passenger train.

Abell was able to have the text set in type in time for the morning paper and was successful in beating the competition, which did not get the story until the next day.

On its first anniversary, The Sun's circulation stood at an impressive 12,000, which forced Abell to move to a larger building at Gay and Baltimore streets.

Abell quickly embraced new technology that he envisioned would aid his news-gathering efforts and lead to a better paper.

It didn't take Abell long to see the possibilities in Samuel F.B. Morse's telegraph, invented in 1844. Abell later became a backer and supporter of the Magnetic Telegraph Co.

It was the Mexican War that placed The Sun on the national stage. In 1846, Abell set up a combination of telegraph, railroad, steamboat, stage coaches and a pony express line to speed war news to the city from New Orleans.

History was made again when The Sun ordered that President James K. Polk's Mexican War message to Congress be telegraphed to Baltimore in its entirety so it could be published.

From its beginning, The Sun had a Washington correspondent, a postal clerk who doubled as a reporter. By 1872, it had a full-fledged Washington Bureau at 1418 F St., later moving to a Gothic Victorian building of its own at 1317 F St., N.W.Eventually, more than 15 reporters worked in the Washington Bureau, covering the president and all avenues of the federal government.

The invention of the high-speed rotary press by New Yorker Richard Hoe in 1846 allowed The Sun to print 20,000 copies an hour, and the Linotype machine ended the drudgery of hand-setting type so that it could be done much faster.

A fleet of 500 carrier pigeons owned by Abell were also used for news gathering, speeding news to Baltimore from northern and southern cities, according to a book about the newspaper's first 150 years written by former Sunday editor Harold A. Williams.

Abell moved his paper in 1851 to an architecturally important building at Baltimore and South streets, which became known as The Sun Iron Building. The cast-iron building had been designed by New York architect James Bogardus, and was the newspaper's home until the Baltimore Fire of 1904, which destroyed the building. No employees were killed.

The Civil War would enact a great strain on Abell and The Sun. While he was a Northerner, he sympathized with the South. When the city was occupied, he was warned that any pro-Confederate articles could lead to his arrest and charges of sedition.

Abell, also the largest holder of ground rents in Baltimore, had made substantial deposits in both Union and Southern banks, and by 1864 had bought out his original partners.

With the end of the Civil War, Abell editorially supported the re-enfranchisement of voters, the acceptance of African-Americans as freemen and President Andrew Johnson's plans for reconstruction of the South.

In the 1880s, Abell introduced telephones in the newsroom and business office of the newspaper, and the first typewriter made its appearance in 1893. No longer were reporters required to write their stories in longhand.

He lived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sun and was 81 when he died at his residence at Charles and Madison streets, in 1888. His longtime friend Enoch Pratt, a Baltimore businessman who had been an advertiser from the paper's debut issue, said, "He has always been foremost in advocating all measures for the good of the city and of his fellow citizens."

After the Great Fire of 1904, The Sun erected a new building on the southwestern corner of Baltimore and Charles streets, where it remained until moving to its current home at 501 N. Calvert St. in 1950.

The paper was expanded on Oct. 6, 1901, when the Sunday Sun was first published, and again on April 18, 1910, with the birth of The Evening Sun.

Henry Louis Mencken joined The Sun in 1906 as Sunday editor, beginning a nearly 50-year career as a columnist, correspondent and adviser to the A.S. Abell Co.

The newspaper remained under control of the Abell family until 1910 when it was sold to Charles H. Grasty, who in turn sold the A.S. Abell Co. in 1919 to Walter Abell 2nd, A.S. Abell's grandson, and Baltimore businessmen Van-Lear Black, Harry C. Black and R. Brent Keyser.

In 1939, the American Newspaper Guild won a representational election but a decade would pass before the Guild secured a contract with the company.

During World War II, war correspondents covered the war in the European and Pacific theaters. When the Japanese surrendered on the battleship USS Missouri, there were three Sunpaper war correspondents to witness the ceremony -- Robert Cochrane, Thomas J. O'Donnell and Philip Potter.

Price Day, who was later editor-in-chief of The Sunpapers from 1960 to 1975, was the only war correspondent of an individual newspaper to witness the May 8, 1945, German surrender at Reims, France.

After the war, many changes came to the newspaper, including the expansion of foreign bureaus that stretched across the world from London to Tokyo. Locally, there were bureaus in the counties around Baltimore in addition to a State House Bureau in Annapolis.

At the time of The Sun's 150th anniversary in 1987, the paper had correspondents in seven foreign capitals and news bureaus in addition to Washington, San Francisco and New York City.

The Sunday Sun Magazine, which grew out of a sepia-colored Sunday section commonly known as the Brown Section, was created in 1946 and continued publishing until 1996. After a 14-year absence, it resumed as a magazine in 2010.

The innovating spirit of A.S. Abell continued through the years. In 1975, the first computers entered the newsroom, which meant a switch from traditional "hot type" printing method. The Sun became one of the first large metropolitan dailies in the nation to do so.

The company purchased 60 acres at Port Covington in 1988, which had formerly been the yards of the Western Maryland Railway.The Hoe offset-presses that had printed the three papers at the Calvert Street plant since 1950 fell silent when the printing and packaging operations were transferred to Port Covington in 1992.

After 85 years, The Evening Sun rolled off the Port Covington presses for the last time on Sept. 15, 1995.A bold headline told the story: "GOOD NIGHT, HON. Thanks for a great 85 years; will you love us in the morning?"

Many notable figures in American journalism have called The Sun and Evening Sun home, including:

-Russell Baker, writer;

-William Manchester, author and historian;

-Helen Delich Bentley, congresswoman;

-Sujata Massey, mystery writer;

-Jim McKay, sports broadcaster;

-Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week";

-Louis Rukeyser, financial journalist and host of "Wall Street Week";

-Laura Lippman, mystery writer;

-David Simon, creator of TV's "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street."

In 1931, The Sun won the first of its 15 Pulitzer Prizes with and award to editorial cartoonist Edmund P. Duffy. He would eventually win two more.

In 1987, Alice Steinbach was the first female reporter at the paper to be presented a Pulitzer. Two more have since won: Lisa Pollack in 1997, and Diana K. Sugg in 2003.

Historic change arrived May 27, 1986.

Thirty hours after the venerable News American folded on May 26, 1986, the A.S. Abell Co. ceased to exist after 149 years, when it was sold for $500 million to Times Mirror Co. of Los Angeles, publishers of the Los Angeles Times.

The Sun's first female managing editor in the paper's history, Kathryn Christensen, was named in 1991 to the paper's No. 2 position under John S. Carroll. She left two years later for "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings."

In 1996, the company launched Sunspot.net, its website, which since 2004 has been named baltimoresun.com.

Times Mirror was acquired in 2000 by Tribune Co. of Chicago, making The Sun a part of a major-market, multimedia company whose operations in addition to newspapers includes television and radio broadcasting, and interactive media.

In 2007, Tribune Co. was purchased by real estate tycoon Sam Zell, and the next year, the newspaper's 171-year-old name was changed to The Baltimore Sun. Many longtime Baltimoreans still refer to the newspaper as the Sunpapers.

Mary J. Corey, a former reporter and editor, became the first woman in the 173-year history of The Baltimore Sun to lead the newsroom, when she was named senior vice president and director of content in 2010.

Since 1837, Sun reporters have roamed the state chronicling news events that have shaped its destiny.

They have dutifully reported on governmental matters -- and at times scandals -- that affect the lives of all Marylanders. They have traveled from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to far-flung corners of the world to bring readers accounts of historic breaking news events.

They have risked their lives covering wars, civil unrest and disasters. They have been eyewitnesses to the rise of the civil rights and women's movement. They have reported on assassinations, depressions, advancements in medicine, science, education, entertainment and technology, and every presidential administration from Martin Van Buren to Barack Obama.Today, under Publisher and CEO Timothy E. Ryan, The Sun remains Maryland's dominant news organization, with the state's largest newspaper and a website that is among the most widely read in the Baltimore area.

Whether in print each morning, online throughout the day, on phones, iPads or other mobile devices, more people than ever read The Sun each day.

For 175 years, Sun reporters have held true to the mission first laid down by Arunah Shepherdson Abell. Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun

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