This week in 1976, NASA’s first space shuttle, the Enterprise, was revealed to the public. And it was definitely named after Star Trek.
The Enterprise was not built to withstand the rigors of space, but was used in atmospheric test flights in the late 1970s. It never went through the intended retrofitting that would allow for spaceflight when it became clear that it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. In 2003 the shuttle was fixed up and put on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. It was moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City in 2012 and remains there today.
Many Americans were shocked by Ryan Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo when it appeared in newspapers around the nation after the racially charged 2017 rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. But they weren’t surprised that there was a photo.
In today’s world, we’re used to photos accompanying breaking news stories. We’re used to seeing as well as reading our news. In fact, we expect it. But this wasn’t always the case.
Before 1935, photos that accompanied breaking news stories—if there were photos at all—were rarely of the event itself, unless the event had happened locally. American newspapers had been able to quickly receive news stories via telegraph for nearly a century; but because images of a faraway event had to be sent by mail, train, or (later) plane, they wouldn’t arrive until days, possibly weeks, later.
In 1935 that all changed with the introduction of the AP Wirephoto. The way Americans consumed news would never be the same.
What Was AP Wirephoto?
The introduction of AP Wirephoto was not the first time photos were transmitted via wire, but it was faster than previous attempts and the results were higher quality. No longer did newspapers have to wait days for photos of events from the other side of the country; instead they could receive a photo via the AP Wirephoto network 8 minutes after it was sent—an extraordinary advancement. For the first time, someone in Iowa could see a photo of a baseball game in New York before the game was even over.
The adoption of AP Wirephoto was not without opposition, however. Early detractors argued against the high cost of the necessary machinery, and some believed there weren’t enough important photos to justify the expense. As it turned out, they were quickly proven wrong.
Just days after the introduction of Wirephotos, the network was used to distribute photos of the Lindbergh baby murder trial—one of the most sensational trials of the time. This timely publication of the trial photos cemented the public’s appetite for photos of news events as they happened.
How Wirephoto Changed Everything
AP Wirephotos (as well as competing photo distribution wire services) changed the way Americans understood and consumed the news. It wasn’t just that photos of an event across the country could now be published alongside news of that event, as groundbreaking as that was. But for the first time in history, millions of people were seeing the same photo of the same event on the same day.
As photos came to dominate newspaper front pages—in some cases overshadowing the headlines—Wirephotos also helped evolve the idea that photos could be news in and of themselves. No longer were photos seen as merely an addition to the news story—they increasingly were the story. Many now-iconic photos—such as the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima—began as AP Wirephotos.
But part of the power of Wirephotos was that inconsequential photos—as well as the iconic ones—were now being published in cities on the opposite side of the country. Before Wirephoto, it likely would not have been worth the cost and effort to send a photo of a champion hog caller—for example—across the country by train or plane. But the ease of sending that same picture through Wirephoto meant that Americans could now see photos of relatively trivial events from around the country, helping to build a sense of national community.
The End of Wirephoto
Wirephotos dominated newspapers from 1935 to the mid-1970s, when papers began adopting new types of photo technology, eventually leading to the digital world we live in today. Now, photos of a newsworthy event are often published online before the story is even written. But although there have been advancements in news photo technology over the years, few compare to the indelible impact that Wirephotos had on the news industry.
A quick little joke from 1920:
This month we head across the pond to highlight our British collection of newspapers. We have papers from cities across England. We also have issues from Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Our archives date back to 1700 and cover more than 300 years of history.
This clipping from The Post Man and The Historical Account from 1700, advertises a book that scholars consider the world’s first scientific journal. It was published by Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane was King George’s doctor, a scientist, and an avid collector of objects from all around the world. Upon his death, Sloane willed his collection of 71,000 items to Britain. This collection became the foundation for the British Museum.
The events leading up to the Revolutionary War are covered from a British perspective in this collection. In one last attempt to avoid war, The Derby Mercury published this letter sent by the Continental Congress to “The Inhabitants of Britain” in 1775. The letter asked for compassion and understanding and pointed out injustices.
The American Revolution has been just one of many conflicts covered by British papers. This dispatch published in The Morning Post in 1814 described when the British set fire to the White House. “The following buildings were set fire to and consumed – the Capitol, including the Senate-house and House of Representation, the arsenal and the President’s palace,” the report said.
The royal family has long dominated British newspaper headlines. In 1837, the papers reported on the crowning of Queen Victoria. The Jackson’s Oxford Journal celebrated her marriage to Prince Albert; and this 1861 headline in The Morning Chronicle announced the death of Prince Albert.
The Shefflield and Rotherham Independent reported on a violent storm in 1838. It filled ventilation shafts with water at the Huskar Colliery, resulting in the deaths of 26 child mine workers. Queen Victoria pressed for an inquiry on working conditions. In 1842, the Children’s Employment Commission released a report that made its way to the papers and caused a sensation. The report found it was not uncommon for children as young as five to work 12-hour days in the mines. They hauled heavy loads through narrow shafts, some just 18-inches tall. The Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was designed to protect women and children from these conditions.
Industrialization led to increased pollution. The Guardian reported on the great smog of 1952. An anticyclone caused high pressure that trapped pollutants and formed a layer of smog over London. Visibility was reduced to inches. The smog claimed more than 4,000 lives during the 5-day event, and thousands more after.
To learn more about these stories, or to research your British ancestors, search our British collection on Newspapers.com!
When insufficient waste disposal mixes with hot summer heat, it’s not going to be good. That’s exactly what happened in London in the mid-1800s, and it all culminated in the summer of 1858 with the “Great Stink.”
Dirty Old Father Thames
At the time, the city’s waste all ended up in the river Thames. The resulting sewer water and the “great stink” it produced was both offensive and unsafe. It was such a problem that the river god “Father Thames” became “Dirty Old Father Thames,” a filthy, sludgy being whose aromas spared neither the poor nor the prosperous.
Parliament and Pestilence
Any solution to the issue would come at incredible expense. If the new Parliament building hadn’t been located on the Thames, fully engulfed in the disgusting miasma, the problem may have persisted even longer. But in 1858, summer temperatures and health concerns soared, and no amount of lime chloride could keep the stink out of the government’s meeting rooms.
A Solution to the Stink
Something had to be done about it. Enter Joseph Bazalgette, whose extensive plan for a new sewage system was accepted within weeks of the oppressive heat wave. Work began in 1859 and took several years to complete, but Dirty Old Father Thames cleaned up his act. The Great Stink of 1858 became just another weird piece of history.
We’re excited to announce that Newspapers.com now has Topic Pages! Topic Pages are a free, curated collection of newspaper articles and clippings focused on subjects throughout American and world history.
Want to learn more about the Great Depression, the D.B. Cooper Hijacking, or Jackie Robinson? These are just a few of the Topic Pages we’ve created! Each Topic Page includes a description of the person or event and a selection of newspaper clippings related to the subject.
As primary sources, these newspaper clippings help you learn how people of the time viewed the person or event highlighted on the Topic Page. For example, our Topic Page for the Battle of Bunker Hill includes newspaper clippings from Patriot, Loyalist, and British perspectives, so you can see the battle from three different points of view.
Whether you’re doing research or are just curious about a subject, Topic Pages are a great place to dive deeper.
Our Topic Pages include:
Battle of Gettysburg
Our collection of Topic Pages is still growing, so keep checking back to find more topics. Or if there’s a topic you want to see, suggest it to us!
Get started exploring our new Topic Pages here.
In the morning hours of September 11th, 2001, the world watched in horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center were brought down by terrorist attack. This week in headlines:
Find more on the September 11th attacks on Newspapers.com.
Here’s an interesting tidbit on the wife of Thomas Hardy, author of several poems and novels including Tess of the D’Urbervilles. His wife in 1900, when this article published, was Emma Gifford.
The later years of the Hardys marriage were strained, but there’s no doubt that Emma had great influence on Thomas. Her death in 1912 was a blow and caused him great regret over his part in their unhappiness.
Have you heard of the Tree of Ténéré? It was a small, scrubby acacia that earned its fame by being the only tree for hundreds of miles in a vast open swath of the Sahara. Its solitary existence made it a significant landmark that guided travelers to water and reassured them that they were on the right path.
Unfortunately, this happened:
Can you imagine driving into the only obstacle in miles of empty desert? Most sources, like the clipping below, say the incident happened in 1973. But the clipping above is from 1969, so who knows when we really lost the world’s loneliest tree?