Postbellum Newspaper Syndicates

This dataset represents the newspapers served by the five leading syndicates of the postbellum period. Syndicates fueled the rapid growth of the American press after the Civil War by providing cheap content – not only news but literary entertainment, general information, and illustrations – to fledgling editors and to newspapers in communities that otherwise would have been too small to sustain one. They exerted profound influence on the format itself and on what millions of Americans read, especially in rural areas.1 This dataset provides unprecedented perspective on the pervasiveness of syndication and the circumstances of the newspapers that relied on it.

I transcribed Kellogg Newspaper Company lists for 1876, 1882, and 1890,2 American Newspaper Union lists for 1882 and 1884,3 Chicago Newspaper Union lists for 1875 and 1890,4 a San Francisco Newspaper Union list for 1894,5 Western Newspaper Union lists for 1885 and 1894,6 and a Northwest Newspaper Union list for 1890.7 This is not a complete record for the period. While these five companies comprise a majority of syndicated newspapers, I have not yet been able to find lists for a couple smaller yet impactful semi-independent syndicates (like the Minnesota-based Northwestern).8

Syndicates grouped papers into lists either regionally or as brand names; these lists were the basis for differing options in content and advertising rates.9 List_K1876 etc. reproduce these groups, K1876 etc. whether a paper was affiliated with a company (first initial abbreviation) in that year. Pop1870 etc. give US Census population records for the given year. My source for this data is Ben Schmidt’s Creating Data.10 There are five main causes of missing population data: absorbed towns (especially in the Northeast), abandoned towns (especially in the Great Plains), neighborhoods of cities, duplicate town names within the same state, and (most commonly) unincorporated towns/townships.

I changed source names in Town only for towns that changed their names and not for those absorbed into larger ones (as this population data would be misleading). For papers without a locatable place of publication, I drew on the Library of Congress Newspaper Directory where available. I treated source newspaper titles similarly in Title, only regularizing for consistency when titles changed and not when papers merged. Many merged papers did simply carry on with the syndicate used by a predecessor, but as this choice was not the default I chose not to treat it as such where it did occur (indeed, some merged papers had to choose between two predecessors' syndicates).

ChronAm indicates whether the newspaper is included in the Chronicling America database. If so, its LCCN is included; where multiple LCCNs exist for different runs of the same paper, I chose the earliest. Start and End reproduce LoC publication span metadata, not holdings (for papers with multiple entries I chose the earliest and latest, respectively). For these reasons, this information is primarily for reference rather than quantification; among other things, it does not indicate whether the runs actually included in Chronicling America correspond to the syndicate records.

Download the file here (please cite where used).

  1. Between 1906 and 1912 the Western Newspaper Union would buy out or make cooperative arrangements with nearly all of its competitors to effectively establish a media monopoly, as the summary of the antitrust case over its acquisition of the American Press Association’s syndicate business shows. ↩︎

  2. A Check list of the Kellogg collection of “patent inside” newspapers of 1876: prepared for exhibit at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia. Chicago: The WPA Historical Records Survey Project, 1939. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA. Kellogg’s List for 1882 and Kellogg’s List for 1890 are available on Hathitrust, as well as Kellogg’s List for 1884, Kellogg’s List for 1896, and Kellogg’s List for 1900. ↩︎

  3. Atlantic Coast List. New York: New York Newspaper Union, 1883. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA. The American Newspaper Union List for 1882 is available on Hathitrust; another for 1878 is available online via the Minnesota Historical Society. The company also went by “Atlantic Coast Lists” and “New York Newspaper Union.” ↩︎

  4. Chicago Newspaper Union. Chicago: Chicago Newspaper Union, 1875. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA. The Chicago Newspaper Union List for 1890 is available on Hathitrust. ↩︎

  5. The San Francisco Newspaper Union List for 1894 is available on, in the back of a newspaper directory put out by its publisher. An 1879 predecessor list may be included in Chas. K. Miller & Co.’s Newspaper Advertising Lists ↩︎

  6. Western Newspaper Union State Lists. Des Moines: Western Newspaper Union, 1885. Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, WI. Western Newspaper Union Western State Lists. Omaha, NE: Western Newspaper Union, 1894. History Nebraska, Lincoln, NE. ↩︎

  7. Advertising in the North West. St. Paul, MN: Northwest Newspaper Union, 1890. DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. ↩︎

  8. Advertisers' newspaper directories, while sadly not reproducing syndicates' lists, did at least advertise them, which provides a loose yet broader sense of development over time. For example, see these representative lists in Hubbard’s 1884 directory and Stack’s 1892 directory. In 1884, the Western Newspaper Union had lists based in Des Moines, IA, Detroit, MI, Kansas City, MO, and Omaha, NE; by 1885 it had added lists in Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, St. Louis, MO, and Topeka, KS; by 1892 it had added lists in Lincoln, NE, Chicago, IL, and Winfield, KS – positioning it for additional competition with Kellogg’s and the Chicago Union in some markets while reinforcing its dominant position in markets further west (Omaha remained its largest list and its Topeka list exceeded its Chicago list). ↩︎

  9. Advertisersing agencies followed suit and organized newspapers geographically into lists for convenience; for example, here is a 1878 Rowell’s pamphlet. ↩︎

  10. Benjamin Schmidt, Creating Data: The Invention of Information in the nineteenth century American State, Schmidt’s dataset relies on those of Wikipedia editor Jacob Alperin-Sheriff and Stanford’s CESTA: U.S. Census Bureau and Erik Steiner, Spatial History Project, Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, Stanford University. ↩︎