Special Report

The Stories Behind the Nation’s Oldest Newspapers

Detailed Findings

The oldest English-language newspaper in existence is the News Letter, out of Belfast, Northern Ireland, established as the Belfast News Letter and General Advertiser in 1737. The oldest American paper still published today — the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant — came along in 1764. Until earlier this year, that honor would have been held by the Newport Mercury, established in 1758 by James Franklin, with the help of his celebrated uncle, Benjamin. Earlier this year, however, the Mercury — which had become a free weekly tabloid — ceased publication, and now exists only as a website and a monthly supplement to the Newport Daily News.

The newspaper publishing business in America has been vigorous and highly competitive from the start. The history of every one of these publications is full of rivalries, mergers, and frequent changes of ownership. It’s also worth noting that many newspapers were founded by young men who were printers by trade, and that rather than breaking news, which would have been largely unobtainable in an era before rapid mass communications, they primarily published legal notices, political opinion, and even poetry.

One of the most popular names for early newspapers (which survives in some publications today) was “Gazette” — a word borrowed from French, which might in turn come from “gazet,” an old Venetian coin that might have been the price of an early paper, or from “gazza,” Italian for magpie (in the metaphorical sense of someone who collects little things). “Intelligencer” and “Courier” were also popular names, as were “Democrat” and “Republican,” the latter of which sometimes, counterintuitively, didn’t refer to the Republican Party.

Whatever their history and their name, all these venerable newspapers have interesting stories.

Methodology

To determine which of the nation’s currently extant 8,500 or so daily and non-daily newspapers are the oldest, 24/7 Wall St consulted the Library of Congress U.S. Newspaper Directory; the websites of New York State Historic Newspapers, Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers, and Newspaper Archives; numerous state and regional historical sites; and Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory (covering the years 1869–1909) and N.W. Ayer & Son’s American Newspaper Annual (1880–1920).

Though some newspapers on this list ceased publication for brief periods, all can trace their lineage directly back to their given founding date. Two newspapers that often appear on “oldest” lists aren’t here because of long gaps in continuity: The Register-Star, published out of Hudson, New York, which descends from the 1785-vintage Hudson Gazette, ceased publication for more than two decades in the early 19th century; and the Cherokee Phoenix, the first American Indian Newspaper, which was first printed in 1828 but was out of business from 1906 to 1975.