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The Morning Leader Archive

the morning leader

Search the Morning Leader

Selected bibliography (Hosted by the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections)

Currently issues from 1903-1921 are included in the digital collection.

Newspapers in Port Townsend

The second half of the 19th century in the American West was a period of huge population expansion and economic growth, in part fueled by the lure of gold and other metals. The prerequisites for success of a newspaper were economic viability in the community, as well as a high enough rate of literacy to ensure readership. By 1880, newspapers were published in half of Washington's counties. At that time, many were affiliated with political parties, including some of the early papers in Port Townsend. The town's first newspaper, the Port Townsend Register, was published on the eve of incorporation in 1860. Several papers were published during the city's early history as a territorial city; these were mainly short-lived weeklies. (A history of newspaper publishing in Port Townsend can be found in Tom Camfield's book, Port Townsend: An Illustrated History of Shanghaiing, Shipwrecks, Soiled Doves and Sundry Souls.) Eventually newspapers became the means of communicating local events and social activities, national and international news and features, and the deeds and misdeeds of government officials. By the turn of the 20th century, advertising had become the most important source of a newspaper's operating income.

The Port Townsend Leader began publication as a daily in 1889, when the area was experiencing rapid growth in business ventures and real estate sales. From 1895 to 1904 it was known as the Morning Leader, and was issued every day but Monday. In 1904, the paper changed its name to the Port Townsend Daily Leader, and became the Port Townsend Leader in 1916. Now titled The Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, it is the only newspaper continuously published since Port Townsend's early boom years.

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Newspaper technology at the turn of the century

By the middle of the 19th century, newspapers in the big cities on the East Coast were transmitting breaking news over telegraph wires. As telegraph lines extended westward, smaller dailies and weeklies could pick up the same news as the big metropolitan papers, including European news after the first transatlantic cable was laid in after the Civil War. The Morning Leader of the early 1900s devoted several columns each issue to late telegraph news, from Olympia, the East, and European capitals. News from other distant ports, such as those in Alaska, came on the boats that arrived in Port Townsend each day.

Linotype operator Peter J. Adamson, Seattle, 1904.
MSCUA University of Washington Libraries, UW1853.
Used with permission.

From the invention of movable type in the 15th century until the middle of the 20th century, printer's type was cast in metal as individual characters. The type for the earliest newspapers was set by hand, letter by letter, into molds. After a newspaper issue was printed, the type was stored and re-used for the next edition. In the first decade of the new century, the Linotype machine invented by Ottmar Merganthaler came into widespread use; type was cast in metal a line at a time. Winslow McCurdy, one of the Leader's early publishers, traveled to San Francisco to take a course at the Merganthaler school. Each issue of the four-page Leader contained several display-type ads, for clothing, patent medicines and baking powder. National advertisers sent boilerplates – metal plates cast with the ads – to newspapers all over the United States.

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Life at the turn of the century

The early 1900s were a time of general optimism across the United States, with expectations of growth and prosperity. The Pacific Northwest, in particular, was a draw to people from the eastern regions seeking opportunity in this land of incomparable beauty and boundless natural resources. In Radical Heritage, his history of labor and socialism in the Northwest, Carlos A. Schwantes writes "not until the mid-1880s was the misty solitude of the North Pacific region broken by railway links to the rest of the United States and Canada. As a result, social, economic and political structures, especially in Washington, still seemed malleable to the newcomers … once in the expansive environment of Puget Sound [a worker] might see himself as a miner or molder or carpenter, and a participant in the creation of a new and more equitable society than the one he left behind."

The economic fortunes of many communities were tied to the route of the railroads, and Port Townsend residents had high hopes of being selected as a transcontinental railroad terminus. Those hopes were eventually dashed, but Port Townsend, at the entrance to Puget Sound, also enjoyed a maritime economy, with shipping being a major industry. Each issue of the Morning Leader included crew notices, as well as frequent reports from the U.S. Customs Service headquarters located here.

The United States at the beginning of the twentieth century was largely a man's world, and a white man's world at that. Bigotry and poverty greeted the European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. On the West Coast, Asian immigrants supplied labor for the mining, fishing, logging and farming industries. Many Chinese immigrants attempted illegal entry to North America through the various port towns of Washington and British Columbia, including Port Townsend. These individuals, as well as the native populations of the area, suffered much discrimination and ill treatment. Women were definitely the second sex, not granted voting rights in Washington state until 1910, ten years before national suffrage for women was finally realized in 1920.

According to historian Evelyn Hu-Dehart, one way of dealing with unfamiliar cultures is to denigrate or ignore the members of those groups. If that is true, the reporting of the Leader in the early 1900s reflected the dominant culture of the times: ethnic minorities were often referred to in derogatory terms, and women were largely ignored, particularly if married, when they seem to have lost all claim to their own first names.
leader ad


Judging from the newspaper advertising of the time, Americans were obsessed with personal health concerns. Each morning's paper included several ads for patent medicines and other health products to alleviate ailments afflicting nearly every body part. Many of the patent medicines contained opiates or alcohol; Hostetter's Stomach Bitters, advertised in the Morning Leader as "a cure for headache, nervousness, indigestion, dyspepsia, constipation and malaria" had an alcohol level of 44%. A frequent and well-known advertiser was Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, a brew of herbs and alcohol for "woman's special ills." (The company was charged with fraud in 1905 for sending out handwritten letters supposedly signed by Lydia herself, when she had been dead for 20 years.)

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From Microfilm to Internet

The Morning Leader had been microfilmed several years ago by Bell & Howell for the Washington State Library. For this project, silver negative copies were scanned by OCLC Preservation Resources in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The GIF images that were then created are 1600 pixels wide, derived from 600 dpi TIFF images. These are restricted to non-commercial, public access use. Prints can be made directly from the microfilm.

For more information, contact Jefferson County Historical Society Research Center, 13692 Airport Cutoff Road, Port Townsend, WA 98368 (on Highway 19, just outside Port Townsend). Phone: 360-379-6673; email.

Each issue of the paper is indexed page-by-page, by library staff and volunteers. This project has been supported by a federal Library Services and Technology Act grant awarded by the Washington State Library Commission.

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Format of the Morning Leader

The Morning Leader was published six days a week, every day but Monday. Page 1 contained local news: politics, shipping, crimes and so forth, as well as advertisements in the disguise of news items. On page 2 readers would find the mail schedule, comings and goings of local residents, brief editorial comments, crew notices, fraternal lodge directory, and rail and steamship schedules. Page 3 was reserved for late telegraph news from cities throughout the United States and even Europe. Finally, page 4 contained more local and regional news, and of course, many advertisements. The digitized version of The Leader is hosted by the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections. You can search on various fields, including date, headline, subject, advertisements, and names of individual people or vessels. Note: you may find variations in the names of individuals, depending on how the person was named in an article in some cases full first names were reported, though the more common convention was to use initials. It has not been possible to verify the full first name of many people who lived in Port Townsend at the time.

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