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Pictures In The Papers
Born in the 1840’s, the era of the woodblock and the “view taken from nature,” early pictorial journalism left behind a matchless treasure of history
June 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 4
The founder and genius of this wonderful paper, Herbert Ingram, had been a printer, bookseller, and news agent in Nottingham, where he noticed that people pie were eager to buy certain 1 cheap weekly papers that sometimes printed small woodcuts of murders and sporting events. His own paper was in a different class from these crude predecessors which pandered to the masses; its pages prove that he was a man of fine taste and strong intelligence, as well as of extraordinary inventiveness. He was at the peak of his career when he came to America in 1860 to enjoy a well-earned vacation. At midnight on September 7 he and his oldest son Herbert went on board the steamer Lady Elgin at Chicago, along with four hundred other excursionists. Two hours later, about forty miles out on Lake Michigan, a schooner rammed into the Lady Elgin , which sank with a loss of three hundred lives. Ingram’s body was washed ashore but his son was never found. There were, however, two younger sons, William and Charles, who eventually took over the management of the Illustrated London News , and were followed by a grandson, Bruce (now Sir Bruce), who became editor in 1900 and still holds that position today, at the age of eighty-five. Among the innovations with which he is credited is the first use in a modern pictorial weekly of photogravure and of color gravure.
In the United States, as well as in England, there were occasional pictures in some of the papers long before the appearance of true pictorial journalism. Franklin and Hall’s Pennsylvania Gazette printed the first American cartoon—the famous Join, or Die divided snake—in 1754. John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal once published a map of the French colonial fortress of Louisbourg, and Paul Revere engraved coffins for the Boston Gazette after the Boston Massacre. An unusual sample of pictorial humor appeared in the New-York Gazetteer in 1775, when the Tory editor James Rivington printed an alleged picture of his own hanging-in-effigy; the incident actually occurred but the picture was obviously a stock cut borrowed from a book or broadside. This thrifty practice was the usual way of illustrating newspapers until the 1830’s.
James Gordon Bennett’s penny New York Herald was the first American newspaper to print any large number of genuine news pictures. Beginning in 1835 with a woodcut showing the ruins made by a great fire in downtown New York, the Herald published pictorial accounts of political parades and mass meetings, murder victims and murder trials, church burnings in Philadelphia, and the bali that welcomed Charles Dickens to New York. A “picture story” that was almost modern ran in the Herald in 1844, showing the assassination of Joseph Smith, the mobbing of a newspaper office, and other scenes of the Mormon tragedy in Nauvoo, Illinois. These pictures were engraved by Thomas W. Strong in New York, and cannot be classed as eyewitness reporting. But the Nauvoo architecture and the features of some of the participants are reasonably authentic, and were probably copied from existing prints.
In 1845 the Herald published the first full page of pictures ever seen in a daily newspaper—a winding procession of tiny woodcuts depicting New York’s funeral honors to ex-President Andrew Jackson. Rival editors raised the cry of “Fraudl” charging that the very same woodcuts had been kicking around London and New York for years, and had already done duty in print as the coronation of Queen Victoria, the funeral of William Henry Harrison, and the Croton water celebration!
There was certainly a good deal of fakery, theft, and blatant misrepresentation in the lower strata of pictorial journalism during the early years. But in this instance, at least, the Herald made a convincing plea of not guilty. Its engraver, Strong, deposed in public that the Jackson pictures “never appeared before in any newspaper, magazine, or book published in this country or any other … that they were executed in my place of business, in Nassau Street … nor were they completely finished until after the funeral procession had taken place.”