Front page - 1873

On June 18, 2019, LNP celebrated its 225th anniversary. The earliest newspaper to which today’s LNP traces its roots was the Lancaster Journal, first published on June 18, 1794, by William Hamilton and Henry Willcocks from a news office located in a tavern building at the King Street site of the current LNP building.

To celebrate 225 years of Lancaster newspapers, we present this series of 52 front pages from the history of the newspapers which would eventually become LNP.

The Panic of 1873

Though the content of this 1873 front page is typical of its time — ads, letters, quirky anecdotes — in the background, the foundation was being laid for one of the most cataclysmic economic events in American history.

With the dust finally settling from the end of the Civil War, expansion was afoot in the United States in 1873. Reconstruction efforts led to thousands of miles of railroad track being built across the country, creating hundreds of jobs and faster travel time for goods. Prior to 1871, there had been 45,000 miles of track laid. Between 1871 and 1900, 170,000 more miles were prepared for rail. None of this would have been possible if not for Congress doling out millions of acres of public lands to railroad companies.

Most of these regions were undeveloped territories, allowing for the rise of speculative investments to fund construction of the railways. One such transcontinental railroad was the Northern Pacific Railway connecting Minnesota to the Pacific Northwest. After being given millions of acres of land grants, Jay Cooke & Company Bank took over as head financier and bond agent of the project.

From 1870 to 1873, Cooke attempted to market bonds to investors to fund the steadily increasing budget of creating a rail line in unchartered territory. Due to both increasing costs and construction times, many banks were left waiting for returns on capital that would potentially never come. In September 1873, just two months after the printing of this front page, Jay Cooke would declare bankruptcy and set off a chain reaction of bank closings that would come to be known as the Panic of 1873.

Almost immediately afterward, the New York Stock Exchange closed for 10 straight days. Before the end of the year, dozens of railroad companies would go belly up, with more to follow. In total, 18,000 businesses failed in the two years that followed. This “Long Depression” would continue until 1879, eclipsing the later and more well-known Great Depression as the single longest economic contraction in U.S. history. At its worst, the unemployment rate was 8.25 percent in 1878.

This economic upheaval led to dark times for average workers. One of the country’s first organized strikes took place in 1877 among railroad workers whose wages were continually cut. Railroad workers across the country, including in Reading - Pennsylvania’s third-largest industrial city at the time - went up in arms against robber barons. State and federal governments would respond in kind, sending militias to combat and sometimes kill striking workers. All told, an estimated 100 workers were killed, over half of them in the Pittsburgh railroad strike that ran from July 19 to July 30, 1877.

Sources: LNP archives; pbs.org; treasury.gov