10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments

Larry Holzwarth - April 20, 2018

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Soldiers there to prevent looting were photographed looting shoes as the city continued to burn. National Archives

3000 DEAD; $300,000,000 LOST SAN FRANCISCO IS OBLITERATED

The Cincinnati Post used the above headline to announce the destruction of the City of San Francisco in its night edition of Thursday, April 19, 1906. The destruction, unfortunately, had only begun. The earthquake began just after 5 AM on April 18, and was strong enough to be felt in Los Angeles, almost 400 miles to the south. Heavy shaking lasted for almost a full minute, with several violent sudden shocks adding to the tremors. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami which was recorded at the Presidio, but it did little damage because much of what it could have destroyed was already destroyed.

Even as the Cincinnati Post was reporting the damage from the earthquake, San Francisco was exploding, literally, in fires caused mostly by ruptured gas mains, and ruptured water mains prevented the fire department from fighting them. Firemen attempted to use explosives, chiefly dynamite, to create firebreaks by blowing up the remnants of damaged buildings. Their inexperience and lack of proper leadership led to the explosives starting additional fires. The fires created a windstorm as they sucked oxygen from the air, allowing them to leap firebreaks successfully established.

Other fires were started deliberately, as acts of arson committed by property owners who were insured against fire, but not against earthquake damage. Home and business property owners with damaged buildings sought to redress this problem by destroying earthquake damaged properties and the evidence of such, with the knowledge that the fire department could do little to put out the flames. The fire department was without leadership, its chief had been badly hurt in the initial earthquake and later died. Police were too busy trying to assist people trapped in rubble to deal with the arsonists.

Army troops were quickly ordered into the city to assist with security and with rescue efforts. On April 18 the Mayor of San Francisco authorized the Army and the city police and auxiliaries to shoot looters on sight. This was complicated by the fact that many of the troops had been reported as looting themselves, and raised the ominous specter of gun battles between regular Army troops, National Guard troops, and police officers. Despite the reports of looting, primary responsibility for feeding and sheltering the homeless fell to the Army until relieved by the Red Cross many days after the event.

Rebuilding the shattered city was never questioned, planning steps were underway as the city still burned. Actual damages were over $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars, the Post’s headline being somewhat optimistic, but it didn’t anticipate much of the fire damage. More than 20 insurance companies went bankrupt over claims, though most claims were honored, even for those which were the result of arson. Part of this was a result of pressure from political entities and banks eager to encourage reinvestment in the city and speed rebuilding. By 1915 the city had recovered sufficiently to host the Panama – Pacific International Exposition.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Though not the worst airship disaster in history, the Hindenburg fire was the most visible. US Navy

HINDENBURG TOLL IS SET AT 35

The Asbury Park Evening Press led its final edition for Friday, May 7, with a headline confirming the death toll from the preceding evening’s disastrous crash of the German Airship Hindenburg. The crash had occurred at the US Navy’s airship facility, Naval Station Lakehurst, only about 25 miles from the newspaper’s offices, and its reporters had witnessed the fire which destroyed the airship in less than a minute. Its cause was the subject of speculation in its day, and remains the subject of speculation today, but one thing known for sure is that the fire was fueled by the hydrogen used in the Hindenburg’s lifting bags.

Helium was a safer alternative to hydrogen in Airships and the United States had at the time a virtual monopoly on helium. However, despite German pleas to allow them to purchase helium for use in its commercial airships, the United States was prevented by law from selling the gas to Germany. The Helium Gas Control Act of 1927 banned sale of the gas for export. Helium was difficult to produce and expensive to procure and since it was the preferred gas for use in US Navy airships, the United States had little strategic interest in providing the gas to the Germans.

The Hindenburg is often believed to have crashed on its first voyage to America, which is incorrect. The airship operated successfully, and profitably, for 14 months prior to the disaster. The ship’s sister in operation, but not in design, the Graf Zeppelin, had successfully circumnavigated the globe. Both airships were noted for the luxurious accommodations for their passengers, the sumptuousness of their cuisine, and the efficiency of the German staff. They competed with the transatlantic liners of day, such as Queen Mary, France’s Normandie, and Germany’s own Bremen, offering an advantage of speed.

Hindenburg’s crash was filmed and broadcast live on radio as it occurred, two eventualities which make it the most famous airship crash, given the spectacular ball of flame which it produced. It was neither the first nor the worst airship crash in terms of casualties. The US Navy lost its airship R38 in 1921, when 44 were killed. Fifty were killed in the explosion of France’s Dixmude in 1923, and the loss of the US Navy airship USS Akron in 1933 resulted in 73 deaths. Hindenburg’s accident, in which 35 died and 62 survived, was permanently scored into the minds of all who saw the film, and it spelled the end of airship travel.

But maybe not the end, maybe just a lengthy coma. In 2017 more than a dozen airships were in operation and several companies offered tourist flights in Europe and North America. In this they are following the example of the Hindenburg, which in 1936 took wealthy tourists, including Pan American World Airways President Juan Trippe, on a tourist flight from Lakehurst to Boston and back, a trip intended to stimulate investment in the company. Airships may well again become a factor in commercial aviation, not for their speed, but for their novelty and luxury.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Taken during a press conference from the President’s private railcar, this photo shows Truman’s exuberance at proving the Chicago Daily Tribune wrong. National Archives

DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN

The Chicago Tribune’s famous headline erroneously trumpeting Republican Thomas E. Dewey’s electoral victory over incumbent Harry S. Truman is one of the most well-known newspaper errors in all American history. There is a little more to the story than it being a simple premature error in judgment on the part of the Tribune’s editors. Nor was the Tribune the only newspaper to publish that morning reporting a Dewey victory, the New York based Journal of Commerce, a biweekly publication, led its November 3 edition with an article listing what to expect from Dewey’s incoming administration.

The Chicago Tribune – then known as the Chicago Daily Tribune – was a long-time Republican leaning publication which had excoriated Truman’s predecessor FDR in its opinion pages and had once referred to Truman as a nincompoop in print. During the campaign leading up to the election the Tribune roundly slammed the three plus years of the Truman presidency and endorsed Dewey and Republican candidates at all levels. Throughout the campaign the Tribune published articles which misrepresented the size of the crowds attending Truman rallies across the nation.

The Tribune’s publisher, Robert R. McCormick, was an isolationist and a leading financial supporter of the America First movement prior to World War II. Following the war McCormick was distrustful of Truman’s support for the Marshall Plan and the president’s own Truman Doctrine for the containment of communism. The White House correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, hardly a liberal publication, referred to the coverage of the campaign by the Tribune as “snide journalism.” Truman complained of the unfair and inaccurate coverage by the Tribune, but his complaints only led McCormick to redouble his efforts.

A year before Election Day, a strike hit the Tribune in the press room, and the manner in which the newspaper went to press changed. Rather than have type set for linotype machines, articles were photographed and then etched onto printing plates. It took longer to etch the plates than set type and the printing deadlines were moved up, meaning articles for the day’s print run needed to be completed earlier in the day preceding the first morning edition. When early returns indicated that Dewey had a significant lead in major cities, and the Tribune’s own analyst anticipated a Republican victory, the Tribune ran with the story.

Later editions the following day carried the correct story, Truman had pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in American electoral history. It was Truman who made the incorrect headline famous, holding the front page for all to see from the back of his private train car and grinning with what was no doubt a sense of vindication. The thrill of vengeance against the newspaper which had tormented him for so long can be seen in his grin. The Tribune never did become an ally of the President and continued to torment him in its pages throughout his second term in office.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Although the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced they were on the moon, they were in fact in this building in downtown Pittsburgh. Wikimedia

WE’RE ON THE MOON

So announced the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, July 21, 1969, although the newspaper was in fact still in its offices in the Post-Gazette building in downtown Pittsburgh. The “we” either referred to the United States or possibly the human race as the front page story ran down the events of the preceding day, which most of the world watched live on television as they transpired. Those events were the culmination of the nation’s efforts to rise to a challenge made by President Kennedy, that of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth by the end of the decade.

When Kennedy issued his challenge, only one American had flown in space, and that was for a short suborbital flight of just fifteen minutes duration. The Russians had already successfully orbited the earth and appeared to be ahead of the United States in nearly every area of manned spaceflight. A new term entered the American lexicon – the space race. American engineering and scientific leaders were heavily recruited to join the American space program, either through working directly for NASA or for its many contractors and subcontractors. As the sixties went on, American successes mounted and the goal looked to be achievable.

During John Glenn’s first American orbital flight in early 1962 he consumed a commercially available but poorly selling drink from General Foods called Tang. Its link to the space program vaulted it into a leading seller, especially popular with children. Late in the decade Pillsbury developed a commercial product it called Space Food Sticks, a snack food marketed to children based on some of the foods developed for the space program. The space program drove the development of the toy market, television programs, comic books, and motion pictures.

In January 1967, a fire during training for the first Apollo mission, which was the program destined to carry Americans to the moon, killed three astronauts, and the space program was roiled by the deaths of their own and the investigations that followed. A revamped program and redesigned space capsule were introduced when the astronauts began flying again the following year. In December 1968 the Apollo capsule orbited the moon. A dramatic broadcast by the astronauts that Christmas Eve showed the Earth from the perspective of lunar orbit as the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis.

When the Apollo 11 mission placed astronauts on the moon and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their footprints on its surface in July 1969 it initiated a burst of national pride. Subsequent moon flights failed to generate the fevered interest in the space program which had existed in the mid-1960s. Only the Apollo 13 near disaster received much airplay. The space program has never achieved the popularity and interest it captured in the 1960s, despite its enormous contributions to science, medicine, and our understanding of the universe.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
The reward offered by the New York Journal was never paid. The amount is prominently displayed multiple times on the front page. Library of Congress

DESTRUCTION OF THE WAR SHIP MAINE WAS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY

The New York Journal reported the sinking of the USS Maine in February 1898, claiming that US Naval officers believed the sinking to be the result of a mine, and that it was clearly caused by enemy action. Maine was stationary in Havana harbor at the time of the sinking, lying at anchor, which would all but rule out a mine as the cause of its destruction. But an accidental sinking would not lead to war and New York Journal publisher William Randolph Hearst wanted a war against Spain. The sinking of the American armored cruiser was the best chance he would get and he made the most of it.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wanted war too, an opportunity for him to demonstrate the power of his new and modern fleet against the Spanish in both Cuba and the Philippines. Roosevelt fed the Hearst chain with information regarding the Spanish in Cuba and with the internal discussions in the Navy over the Maine loss. According to the Hearst newspapers the Navy was unanimous in agreement that the Maine had been sunk due to enemy activity. In fact the Navy was investigating the possibility of internal explosions of magazines and coal bunkers.

Under pressure from above the official Navy Board of Inquiry found that Maine was destroyed by the detonation of her forward magazines, probably caused by a mine. The shrill voice of the New York Journal convicted Spain in print long before the Navy finding was released and by April Hearst had his war. The United States Navy destroyed the Spanish squadrons in the Caribbean and Manila Bay and when the war ended the United States had acquired the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and held temporary control of the island of Cuba. The United States also annexed Hawaii to provide a Naval coaling station to support the Pacific fleet.

The New York Journal spurred its reporting of the Maine affair and other Spanish “atrocities” leading up to the Spanish American war in several ways. It offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identification of those responsible for the loss of the ship. It called the ship America’s newest and best, in fact Maine and ships of its design were obsolete at the time they were launched, thanks to British naval innovations. The Journal, and other newspapers which practiced what became known as yellow journalism, devoted a great deal of space to publish rumors and outright falsifications to incite anger against Spain and patriotic fervor.

Whether there would have been a war with Spain over Cuba and the Philippines had it not been for the practice of yellow journalism is questionable. Numerous politicians were looking to expand American influence and territory beyond the North American continent. A Pacific empire and trade with Asia beckoned. The Spanish American War was sold to the American people as a war to free the Cubans and Filipinos from Spanish oppression. It led to a protracted war between American troops and Filipinos who didn’t much care for American control of their islands either. The reporting of that war in the yellow journals was every bit as lurid as that which led up to the Spanish American War, except by then it was the Filipinos committing the atrocities.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
JFK and Jackie arriving at Dallas’ Love Field on November 22, 1963. Pleased by the large crowd, the President interrupted his schedule to shake the hands of many there. National Archives

KENNEDY DEAD!

The final edition of the Newark Star-Ledger for Saturday, November 23, 1963 used its largest typeface to announce what the entire world already knew, that President John F. Kennedy had been killed and Lyndon Johnson sworn in as President of the United States. The same headline was repeated by newspapers around the country. By the time the Ledger-Star went to press the late President’s body had been returned to Washington, disembarked at Andrews Air Force Base accompanied by his blood-spattered widow, an event shown on live television. Indeed for all of that Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, television showed little else but the events surrounding the assassination of the President.

Despite the intense media crush which surrounded the events of the Kennedy assassination, facts emerged slowly, and rumors of others being involved besides the suspect in custody, Lee Harvey Oswald, abounded. When Oswald was shot and silenced the rumors intensified. On the same Saturday that the Newark Star-Ledger announced the President’s death, Dan Rather, then a CBS correspondent in Dallas, reported the existence of the Zapruder film, and having seen it, its content including the violent motion of the Presidents head backwards when impacted by one of the shots.

Eyewitness interviews revealed reports of shots coming from multiple directions, but no other suspects were announced and by Saturday the Dallas Police were announcing their certainty that Oswald was the sole assassin. There was at the time no federal statute making it a crime to assassinate the President, the murder was a local case, the jurisdiction in which it would be tried was Dallas. Eventually two men would be tried in connection with the Kennedy assassination, Jack Ruby, convicted for murdering Oswald, and Clayton Shaw, acquitted in New Orleans of conspiracy. For over five decades the assassination has been tried in the court of public opinion, and the jury has yet to reach a verdict.

One week following the assassination, in response to the rumors and conflicting statements of so many, Lyndon Johnson established the Warren Commission to answer all the questions regarding Kennedy’s murder. Its 888 page report released in September 1964 has been analyzed and dissected by conspiracy theorists, Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968, the Rockefeller Commission in 1975, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978-79. The result of the HSCA was that Oswald fired the fatal shot, but that another gunmen fired at the President from behind a picket fence, and missed. Eyewitnesses at the scene in 1963 had informed Dallas Police, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents of a gunshot from the picket fence, but their reports were dismissed.

Since the assassination, the murder and President Kennedy himself have become divisive subjects among Americans. Many dismiss JFK as nothing more than a womanizer, his presidency as inconsequential, his political skills simply being his father’s money. Others cite his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis as evidence of his presidential skills and abilities. Some believe Oswald acted alone, others think the President was killed by conspirators. Fiction, innuendo, prejudice, and time have obscured the facts of Kennedy’s life as well as his death. None of that was known when the Newark Star-Ledger went to press that Saturday in November, unable to do anything but express its shock that Kennedy was dead.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Vancouver Daily World” entry, City of Vancouver Archives, online

“Did the Titanic Sink Because of an Optical Illusion?”, by Tim Maltin, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2012

“Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific 1941-1942”, by Ian W. Toll, 2012

“Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino”, by Emily Leider, 2003

“America First: The Battle against Intervention 1940-1941”, by Wayne S. Cole, 1953

“The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire”, by Eric Niderost, American History Magazine, April 2006

“The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters”, by John Toland, 1972

“Dewey Defeats Truman”, by Tim Jones, The Chicago Tribune, online

“Gemini: Stepping Stone to the Moon”, by Sarah Loff, NASA, online

“How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed”, by Adm. Hyman T. Rickover USN (ret), 1976

“Decade of Disillusionment: The Kennedy-Johnson Years”, by Jim F. Heath, 1976

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