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The Gazette's origins: The early years (1894–1900)

125 Years

The Gazette's origins: The early years (1894–1900)

Gazette gets ready to go to war against the Union newspapers
The Gazette's origins: The early years (1894–1900)
This photo shows a horse-drawn sled in front of the Gazette’s offices on State Street around 1900.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

There were still worries about Indian wars in the West. The last major league baseball player to work without a glove, third baseman Jerry Denny of Louisville, retired that year.

The public was singing that new tune “Sidewalks of New York” (“East Side, West Side, all about the town”) and labor-movement supporters watched the terrible progress of the Pullman Strike.

For newspapers, it was a growth period. Between 1880 and 1900 the number of daily newspapers in the U.S. more than doubled, to about 2,200. There were also weeklies and semi-weeklies.

One of those weeklies was the Schenectady Gazette. Owned by the Marlettes, familiar names in local publishing, it was not a successful enterprise by 1894. The Sept. 14, 1894, issue of the weekly Schenectady Gazette announced that it was the last to appear under the Marlette banner, as the newspaper’s operations had been sold to the Schenectady Printing Association. That organization in turn planned to begin a daily newspaper in the city, as well as continuing to publish a weekly edition.

Next: The Gazette's origins: Entering the 20th century (1910–1919)

The printing association, incorporated that same day, was a group of high-powered local men. In a couple of versions of the Gazette story, they were all Democrats, and as such they chafed in a city where the dominant newspaper, the daily and weekly Union, was Republican (The Union, in turn, had been formed because Republicans were unhappy in a city where the only daily, the Evening Star, was Democratic).

Although the Evening Star was still around in 1894, in this version of the storytelling it was apparently not the right kind of Democratic paper for the men who bought the Gazette.

According to the articles of incorporation for the printing association, the first directors were Daniel Nylon Jr., then the district attorney; Edwin Angel, a local lawyer; J. Teller Schoolcraft, who had recently became the postmaster and would eventually become mayor; M. DeForest Yates, who was in the furniture and undertaking business; and Horatio G. Glen, another lawyer and businessman. In addition, Edward E. Kriegsman, who was involved with the insurance firm of Schermerhorn & Co. and had been Glen’s business partner in a fire insurance company before that, was also a stockholder, although he did not own enough shares to become a director.

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The company aimed to use 200 shares of stock at $50 a share, and to have each director own at least five shares (Kriegsman owned only three).

Schoolcraft was the first president of the printing association, and Glen – seemingly one of the largest early stockholders, with 18 shares – the first treasurer.

Later accounts of the printing association have claimed that Gerardus Smith, a local businessman and active Democrat, was part of the original group and a charter director of the printing association. But he is not listed on the original articles of incorporation, and there are conflicting reports of his involvement.

Some biographical notes on Smith say he did not buy into the Gazette until 1895. Smith ran for mayor that spring, losing narrowly to the incumbent, Jacob Clute, and The Daily Gazette underwent major changes in July 1895. But an 1898 Gazette-produced guide to the City of Schenectady includes a short biography of Smith which does not mention a role in The Daily Gazette – even as it mentions another businessman’s involvement in the Union newspapers.

It is certain that he was involved by 1899, when he is listed as president of the printing association and its corporate successor, the Daily Gazette Co. But there were at least two major shakeups in management of the newspaper in the early years of the Daily Gazette, one in 1895 and the second in 1899, either of which could have signaled Smith’s arrival.

Indeed, when seeking the man who founded the modern-day Gazette, the nod could just as well go to Schoolcraft, who was the company’s first president. John L. Schoolcraft, the grandson of J. Teller, said there are no family records of J. Teller Schoolcraft’s involvement in the newspaper, although he knew J. Teller participated. John Schoolcraft also recalled family conversations that the Schoolcrafts might have ended up owning the Gazette had some things – and he does not know what – gone differently.

Then there’s the case to be made for Horatio Glen. He may not have remained with the Gazette, but he certainly was present at the creation.

Besides his presence in printing association documents, a memoir by the Gazette’s first editor, Edwin C. Conde, claims he was first approached by Glen Yates and a third man, Nelson Waite, who “stated they and their associates had purchased a weekly …. And proposed to make it a daily about Oct. 1.”

“Mr. Glen was to be editorial writer, producing his work in his home or office. Later he tired of this and I became both editor and city editor.”

So let’s put Smith aside for now and look at this new newspaper announced in the Sept. 21, 1894, issue of the Schenectady Gazette (then still a weekly). Conde would be the city editor as part of an operating team that also included Charles P. Marlette, late of the Schenectady Gazette’s Marlettes, to run the business side, and William E. Sanborn, who had run a job printing shop for the Marlettes and did likewise for the new company (The Gazette, in fact, would continue to do printing jobs into the late 1950s). It was apparently a close group: Conde married Marlette’s sister.

The new paper was to be a daily, and its sympathies would be with Democrats on the national issue of tariff reform, “independently Democratic: on state issues and independent in local affairs. (The latter may demonstrate some influence of Conde, who would become a force in the city’s Republican politics). It summed up that stance with the motto, “Democratic in Policy, Independent as Occasion Requires.”

Although that Democratic tie would continue with diminishing enthusiasm until the mid-1930s, the realities of running a newspaper prompted some backpedaling within the first year. But another viewpoint expressed early on would prove consistent for many years.

“We do not claim for it perfection” an editorial said, “But simply present it as the first evidence of an earnest desire to give to the City of Schenectady a newspaper that will seek to gather and print all the news while it is news, and that will be representative of the progressive and enterprising spirit which has so rapidly developed here.”

The boosterism in that statement would mark the Gazette for decades. It favored growth in the community, supported local industry and backed community organizations.

Next: The Gazette's origins: Entering the 20th century (1910–1919)

For the centennial of Union College in 1895, the Daily Gazette was printed in Union-red ink. The fortunes of the city and the Gazette would often seem linked. In 1899, the introduction of a new press and plant for the paper would bear the headline, “A Growth in Keeping with the City’s Progress.” And its friendly treatment of local businesses such as the General Electric Co. would mark the paper for decades.

Which is not to say that the Daily Gazette’s manifestoes were always indicative of what was to come. The new paper also declared, “We have no jealousies, no animosities, no antagonisms and shall have none. We enter into fair and honorable rivalry with our competitor.”

Rivalry was too gentle a word. The Gazette was ready to go to war against the Union newspapers.

It was time for strong words (one early headline reads, “Chinese At It Again. Yellow Fiends Once More Attack American Missionaries”). Newspapers and politics were not excepted. A comment during the 1895 political campaigns notes the Union’s “column after column of political prattle.” The Gazette also claimed “the Union’s publisher has had a taste of the Republican plum in the shape of the city printing. If the next common council is Republican, he will have no opposition in retaining it; if Democratic, he will lose it."

Nor was that the end of such talk. A 1902 editorial alluded to “the local Republican organ, on whose editorial writer the silly season seems to have gotten in some fine work.” Or you could turn to a 1914 edition which – states of television news – noted “the following important news items appeared exclusively in yesterday’s Gazette.”

In the newspaper war the Gazette would eventually win, but nor without changes in its strategy, and some help from its competition.

With the Gazette’s arrival, Schenectadians had three afternoon newspapers from which to choose – The Republican Union, Democratic Evening Star, and the generally Democratic Gazette. It does not appear that they took readily to the newest entry in the field.

The paper, all four pages of it, did go strongly for local news. The front page of the first issue included a long account of Union College’s 37-0 football victory over RPI, and a recap of two sermons that Union President A.V. Raymond had given the previous day.

There were also early signs of a bloodthirsty streak in the paper’s editors, most noticeable in a story from the second issue with the headline: “A Young Woman Cuts Her Throat. Temporary Insanity Was Doubtless the Cause.”

What you could not find, apparently, were a lot of readers.

Between Oct. 1, 1894, when the first Daily Gazette appeared, and July 8, 1895, the newspaper dropped its price twice (from three cents to a penny) and changed its format. It saw the Democrats pounded in state and county elections in November 1894, then fail to gain the mayoralty and control of the common council in the April 1895 elections.

Naturally, the Gazette tried to present some of those changes as favorably as possible.

The expansion from seven to eight news columns and larger pages in its weekday editions in late October 1894 came with the declaration that “many days our busy reporters have gathered in more news than we were able to print, for lack of space.” The fact that the price was dropped from three to two cents at the same time was not addressed.

An editorial on the 1894 elections said, “The Daily Gazette regrets the result of the contest, but it says to the Democrats of Schenectady County, ‘Do not be dismayed,’ The party as met defeat before and has survived it. It will do so this time.”

Then the 1895 election coverage declared “Schenectady is still a Democratic city at heart” – emphasizing success in city-wide races instead of the results for mayor and council.

The latter election also gave the Gazette a chance to tout its own skills, describing its preparation of an election extra.

“At each polling place in the city last night,” a story said, “a Daily Gazette messenger waited while the votes were being counted and as soon as his copy had been verified by a Democratic inspector, carried them rapidly to this office which was thronged with interested and anxious citizens … 20 minutes after the last district had been heard from the streets were alive with boys selling the extra edition.”

But the news was not as good as the Daily Gazette might have hoped. So more changes came. What a later editorial would call “a radical change… in the management” hit in July.

On July 6, the paper declared, “With the next issue of the Daily Gazette … the paper will be issued every morning except Sunday and will be strictly independent in politics.”

Of the policy shift it said, “By thus throwing away all hope of political patronage the Gazette makes itself free and better able to guard the public interest than any publication hampered by party ties.”

The political break was less severe than that sounds. The Gazette would consistently support Democratic candidates and carry the list of Democratic nominees for office on its editorial page preceding elections through 1935. Ore significant was the move to mornings, where the Gazette would not have a direct competitor in the city, and the price drop to a penny. The paper explained the price in terms that could also be applied to the morning move: that to increase its advertising and influence, the paper had to be “within the reach of all.”

Here, finally, the Daily Gazette began to come into its own. By August 1895 it was claiming to have “the largest circulation of any newspaper published in Schenectady” – about 3,000 copies a day.

“Correct principles are behind it,” the paper said. “It is the paper of the people. It has been the advocate of the people’s interest from the start. It prints all the news, is enterprising, fearless and aggressively independent.”

The next few years in the Gazette’s history are difficult to trace. There are enormous gaps in the surviving editions of the newspaper, for one thing, and stories people tell today may have been muted or transformed in the telling and retelling.

One surviving document from 1897 is a brochure for possible advertisers offering “Truths About a Paper of Known Circulation.” It boasts of 3,300 papers sold each day (less than five percent of what the Gazette has now) and contains an affidavit from the head of circulation, Harry Bliss, to that effect.

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It bears testimonials from happy advertisers, including a furniture dealer, druggists, grocers, the California Wine Store, a “practical sanitarian” and the W.T. Hanson Co., “proprietors of Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve and Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Page People.”

Noting that Schenectady had 25,000 people, the General Electric Co., “the famous Schenectady Locomotive Works,” other features and “about $75,000.00 … paid in wages each week by the various industries,” the brochure concludes: “All this shows there’s money here. Don’t you want some of it?”

On the news side, Conde left the Gazette in 1897 to join the General Electric Co., then a patent-medicine company. He became postmaster, Republican political boss in the city and city historian – a post that would come to be held by two other Gazette alumni, William Efner and Larry Hat.

According to one account, Efner was a teenager when the Daily Gazette first appeared and would come to the Centre Street offices with “a bit of town gossip or an item of news.

Also in 1897, Efner was asked to cover a bazaar in the old armory, setting him on a path to reporting that he would follow for close to 20 years. Like Conde he would go on to other pursuits, including establishing the city’s history center.

And so the Gazette went about its way, not always easily but continuing to put out a paper, and undergoing still another major change as the 19th century was coming to an end.

Next: The Gazette's origins: Entering the 20th century (1910–1919)

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