In 1843, when telegraph inventor Samuel Morse lobbied Congress for funds to connect Washington and Baltimore, Abell lent his influence. A year later, when Morse tapped out his first coded message — "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT" — on May 24, it arrived at the B&O's Mount Clare Station and was rushed to Abell's newsroom. It ran in The Sun the next day.

Plain and generous

It took Abell a decade — and some planning — to turn his hunch into a world-class operation.

With the U.S. and Mexico headed for war, he created a communications network to New Orleans. It included steamships, stagecoaches, railways, telegraph lines and a 60-horse pony express. When Mexico surrendered in the siege of Vera Cruz, he got word to Polk — and readers — first.

"It took a war to establish the Sun as a great paper, competitive for the news," wrote reporter E.B. Furgurson in "Light For All: 150 Years of the Baltimore Sun," a feature that appeared May 17, 1987.

Such foresight typified the plain-spoken Abell, who was able to leave his children a $5 million estate when he died on April 19, 1888.

The next day, his paper printed tributes from rich and poor alike. Most mentioned his integrity, his businesslike demeanor and his feel for the common man. Even the composing room employees weighed in with a formal resolution.

"[We] have lost a kind-hearted and generous employer, the entire craft a worthy member, and the community an enterprising citizen," they wrote.

That's what his descendants like most about the patriarch — that he did well without losing his human touch. "That was rare in his day," says Kevin Abell, who worked as a Sun reporter from 1977 to 1987 and still keeps an eye on the newspaper world.

It's a time of declining revenues, but he doubts that would have discouraged his great-great-grandfather.

"Arunah was a creative guy. I think he'd have started getting into cable TV and radio 25 years ago, maybe figured out how to put up an [Internet] paywall," Abell says. "But he'd have stayed true to the idea. He cared about getting it right."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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