For 175 years, Daily Mail has put community first

July 06, 2003|by Terry Headlee

Our afternoon publication, The Daily Mail, reached a historic milestone Friday.

It turned 175 years old.

The Daily Mail, which is among the oldest continuously running newspapers in Maryland (yes, it's older than both The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun), shares its July 4, 1828, birthday with two other historical events in our nation's history.

On that date 175 years ago, President John Quincy Adams removed the first spadeful of earth in Georgetown for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal, which reached Cumberland in 1850, would later wind its way along Washington County's river banks for about 80 miles.

At the same time in Baltimore, Charles Carroll, the last survivor among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, placed in position the first stone in the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.


In Hagerstown, meanwhile, the first issue of The Daily Mail was printed on a flatbed press, every letter set by hand. A story that appeared in our newspaper 25 years ago indicates that a man named Jacob Fiery of Funkstown received the first copy.

At the time, the newspaper was called The Hagerstown Mail and was published weekly. It didn't begin publishing daily until 1890, which is when it changed its name to The Daily Mail.

The Mail, which today is distributed almost exclusively in Washington County, eventually was purchased by The Morning Herald in 1920 and the two companies merged to become The Herald-Mail.

I think you will find the origins of The Daily Mail quite interesting.

The late Harry Warner, who researched and wrote most of the articles in a July 1978 tabloid commemorating the 150th anniversary of The Daily Mail, wrote that Andrew Jackson was indirectly responsible for the founding of The Hagerstown Mail.

Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, lost the presidency to Adams in 1824 despite receiving more popular and electoral votes. A four-way contest for president that year threw the race into the House of Representatives, which selected Adams.

Four years later, local supporters of Jackson believed there were few newspapers west of Baltimore that supported Jackson's bid for president. So a group of young men in the Hagerstown area decided to start their own publication, Warner wrote.

They found a Martinsburg, W.Va., resident, James Maxwell, to serve as the first editor and opened its office in a tavern on West Washington Street in downtown Hagerstown. (In case you're wondering: Hagerstown had 600 homes and about 3,300 residents at the time).

The early editions of The Daily Mail would not be recognized by today's readers. The first issue was a single sheet of paper, 20 by 28 inches in size, and was printed on both sides. There were no headlines in large type, no comic strips, no sports pages, no photos or graphics and no features or human interest stories.

Newspapers in those days were more like political organs in which stories - mostly focused on politics or government - read like editorials and were wildly slanted in favor of one politician or party, according to Warner's research.

Maxwell, the paper's first editor, drafted what became known as the newspaper's "Proposals for Publishing," which explained the role of the newspaper to the community. It concluded:

"The political principles of this paper will be as purely Republican as those contained in the Declaration of Independence, and the rights of the people shall be at all times zealously, firmly and fearlessly supported, whoever may be in power. The establishment is intended to be permanent."

As Warner noted in 1978 and I will here again, the final sentence "is completely accurate." The Daily Mail - 175 years later - remains a permanent fixture in the local community. It is committed to providing accurate and balanced reporting of local, state, national and world events.

The paper also remains zealous in providing local news to its readers and, like any respectable newspaper, it will continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Through the years, the newspaper has employed a large number of talented men and women who have helped make it what it is. We have been fortunate to have been blessed with so many dedicated individuals.

But a newspaper can't survive without the support of its readers. We thank you for continuing to read us, particularly on our 175th birthday.

Terry Headlee is the executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, extension 7594, or e-mail at

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