By the middle of 1847, Chicago had shaken off much of the transient appearance of a frontier settlement and was attracting attention as an up-and-coming city.
In July, 20,000 visitors from across the nation streamed into Chicago--population 16,000--for the Rivers and Harbors Convention, foreshadowing the city's future as a convention center. The visitors would leave impressed with Chicago's potential.It was an opportune time to start a newspaper. But James Kelly, a leather merchant, and two newspapermen, John E. Wheeler and Joseph K.C. Forrest, almost certainly did not foresee Chicago's coming rise. For them, opening the city's third newspaper, the Chicago Daily Tribune, gave them a source of ready-to-reuse news stories for their literary weekly, The Gem of the Prairie, begun in 1844.
The first issue of the Tribune--now lost--consisted of four pages; 400 copies were printed in the paper's humble office on the third floor of a wooden building at La Salle and Lake Streets.
The content was largely literary. There was local news, but reports from the East came in the form of letters or dispatches from other newspapers. "Fresh" overseas news was more than a month old.
"Our views, in all probability, will sometimes be coincident with the conservatives; sometimes we may be found in the ranks of the radicals; but we shall at all times be faithful to humanity--to the whole of humanity--without regard to race, sectional divisions, party lines, or parallels of latitude or longitude," the paper said.
The city's first newspaper, the Chicago Democrat, founded in 1833, took no notice of the newcomer. However, the Chicago Journal welcomed the Tribune to "the stormy sea" of Chicago journalism.
Within six weeks, the founding partnership hit rough water: Kelly quit because of failing eyesight. Forrest pulled out in September, questioning the wisdom of his $600 investment. Wheeler, the editor, bowed out in 1851.
But as the city grew, so did Tribune circulation, reaching 1,800 by 1851. Ownership would change hands several times, but the paper's politics remained constant. The Tribune supported anybody who was not a Democrat--Whigs, Free Soilers and even members of the short-lived Know-Nothing Party.
That stance differed dramatically from the first Chicago Tribune, a Democratic weekly launched in 1840 to support a second term for President Martin Van Buren. It followed Van Buren's lead and folded after a year. But like the first adhesive United States postage stamp, also introduced in 1847, the second Chicago Tribune would stick.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times