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
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


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


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