The Baltimore Sun Company's history is among the longest and most distinguished in American journalism.
Founded by Arunah Shepherdson Abell, a journeyman printer from Rhode Island who believed in the concept of a people's paper devoted to the news that most directly affected the lives of its readers, The Sun first appeared on Wednesday, May 17, 1837. That issue consisted of four tabloid-size pages, sold for a penny, and was in marked contrast to the six-cent "literary" dailies then in fashion all along the East Coast.
Since that time, The Sun has experienced dramatic growth and change that is not adequately reflected in a chronicle of the mere passage of years. Indeed, this growth can be measured in a variety of ways:
It can be measured in terms of the talented people whom The Sun has been able to attract and the growth in their numbers over the years. Only a handful of people were involved in publishing the first edition of The Sun in 1837; in fact, it is likely that Arunah Abell set type himself. Today, approximately 1,500 full- and part-time employees work for The Sun, making The Baltimore Sun Company not only one of Maryland's most prestigious employers, but also one of its largest.
The Company's growth also can be measured in terms of the brick and mortar and steel which have been used to construct the ever-larger facilities into which the Company has had to move. The first issue of The Sun was printed in a small, antiquated building at 21 Light Street. The large, modern plant at Calvert and Centre streets into which The Sun moved in 1950 is the fifth home of The Baltimore Sun Company.
Of the first four, the only one that had not been outgrown by the time it was replaced was the celebrated Sun Iron Building, a five-story structure built in 1851 with design and construction concepts that made it the forerunner of the contemporary skyscraper. Located at the corner of Baltimore and South streets, the Iron Building was destroyed in the historic fire of 1904 that razed 20 blocks of the downtown area. In 1906, the Company moved into a building it constructed at the intersection of Charles and Baltimore streets. It was from this building that The Baltimore Sun moved to its present location in 1950. In 1979, ground was broken for a new addition to the Calvert Street plant to house modern pressroom facilities. The new facility commenced operations in 1981. By 1985, this new facility was already nearing its capacity due to the rate of growth in advertising and circulation.
In April 1988, the Company purchased 60 acres of land at Port Covington as the site of Sun Park, a satellite printing and packaging facility, which houses state-of-the-art, computerized presses and packaging equipment and represents an investment of $180 million. It is there that the paper is published today.
Most important, our development can be measured in terms of traditions, innovations, and accomplishments. From the very beginning, The Baltimore Sun Company has been devoted to Arunah Abell's belief in bringing its readers the news that matters most to them. The lead story in the first issue of The Sun dealt with actions of the Baltimore City Council, which affected the lives of the citizens but which not one of the other half-dozen papers in the city bothered to report.
Today, that same emphasis on what is taking place in Baltimore, its surrounding counties, and throughout Maryland makes The Sun's local news coverage among the most complete in the country.
Because of Baltimore's proximity to Washington, D.C., events in the nation's capital have always been regarded with particular interest; and on June 13, 1837, less than a month after it was founded, The Sun carried its first account by a Washington correspondent writing specifically for Sun readers. Through the years, that coverage was expanded and a formal Washington Bureau was established.
The same tradition of printing news affecting Baltimoreans was applied to the paper's coverage abroad, prompting it then - as now - to augment other reports with its own initiative. Thus, at the end of its first decade, The Sun was the first source to inform President Polk of the surrender of the city of Vera Cruz, assuring a United States victory in the Mexican War. In 1924, The Baltimore Sun Company opened its first overseas bureau in London. Today, the Company has multiple offices overseas, a network that brings distinguished foreign reporting directly to hometown readers.
Wherever Sun reporters may be, whatever story they may be covering, they are there to maintain a tradition of excellence and accuracy that was fostered by three generations of Abells and has been maintained since 1910, when control of the Company was acquired by a group of Baltimore businessmen including H. Crawford Black. His son, Van Lear, was named Chairman of the Board of Directors in 1914, a position held until his death in 1930.
Van Lear Black was succeeded by his brother, Harry C. Black. Upon Harry's death in 1956, he in turn was succeeded by his nephew - and Van Lear's son - Gary Black Sr. Upon his retirement in December, 1984, Gary Black Sr. was succeeded by William E. McGuirk Jr., who remained the Chairman of the Board of directors until October 1986, when the company was acquired by the Times Mirror Company, a nationwide information and media company. In June 2000, Times Mirror merged with Tribune Company, making The Sun a subsidiary of Tribune, a major-market, multimedia leader with operations in television and radio broadcasting, publishing and interactive media.
To further the tradition of getting the news early and correctly, The Baltimore Sun Company has a long history of innovation. The Company was a pioneer in the use of the telegraph, the high speed press, and the underwater cable. It used the development of the railroad to speed the news to Baltimore and distribute the papers carrying that news. Where railroads failed to reach, the Company set up a sort of "pony express" system. And it led the way in the kind of cooperative news reporting ventures that eventually gave rise to the wire services.
Nor has this pioneering spirit been confined to the past. In 1975, The Sun developed and installed the most sophisticated electronic system of writing and editing news in the country. This system utilized five computers and 76 video typewriter terminals. In 1976, The Company installed a similar electronic system in the classified advertising telephone room and completed the far-reaching conversion of its production operations from "hot-metal" and linotype machines to "cold-type" and computers.
In 1978, the Company committed itself to the purchase of technically advanced off-set presses and mailroom equipment to further expand production capabilities beginning in 1981. By 1983, the classified and editorial systems installed in the 1970s had fallen behind the rapid advancement of computer technology, necessitating the purchase and installation of a state-of-the-art classified system in 1984 and a new, expanded editorial system in 1985. With the support of Times Mirror and now Tribune, the Company has continued to pursue projects that will keep The Sun on the leading edge of technology. And, in September 1996, the Company introduced its internet site, baltimoresun.com, which contains the full daily newspaper content as well as extensive original programming.
The Sun's satellite facility at Sun Park houses Goss Colorliner presses - highly sophisticated, computerized presses that offer unprecedented flexibility in color placement, paging and speed - and SLS-1000 automated inserting equipment in the packaging area to keep pace with the speed of the Colorliner process. In addition, robotics are employed to automate the process of delivering newsprint to the presses in the form of Automated Guided Vehicles - "intelligent" electronic forklifts that are programmed from a central control station.
The accomplishments of The Baltimore Sun Company through the years are reflected in the esteem with which it is held in the newspaper business, in its circulation and advertising acceptance, in its community leadership, in the Pulitzer prizes and numerous other awards it and its reporters have earned, and in the distinguished directory of bylines that have appeared in its pages: H.L. Mencken, John Haslup Adams, Frank Kent, Gerald Johnson, Hamilton Owens, Thomas O'Neill, Gerald Griffing, Mark Watson, Lee McCardell, Philip Potter, Price Day, Alice Steinbach, William Manchester, Jon Franklin and many, many more.
Over the years, The Baltimore Sun Company has put at the heart of its mission a responsibility and duty toward its advertisers and readers.