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After the great fire that destroyed much of the city in 1845, the Pittsburg Dispatch was one of the few profitable companies that formed in its wake, reporting on local, national, and global events from 1846 to 1923 to become one of the United States’ most popular daily newspapers, an honor bestowed upon the paper by a committee of newspaper publishers. The Dispatch was Republican in ideals, particularly in its abolitionist views, which matched the sentiment of the western Pennsylvania region. The paper was so influential that it was deemed responsible for the Republican Party’s success in Pennsylvania, particularly during the presidential campaigns of James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding.
The Dispatch was first published in 1846 by J. Heron Foster, and its May 31, 1846 report of Zachary Taylor’s army crossing the Rio Grande was the first Sunday edition of a newspaper in Pittsburgh. In 1865, Alexander W. Rook and Daniel O’Neill purchased half interest in the paper, and when Foster died two years later they bought full interest. After its building was destroyed by a fire in 1877, Rook and O’Neill took the opportunity to build a new office with updated printing technology that would double the size of the four-page newspaper. The Dispatch began to utilize the “perfecting press” method, which allowed printing on both sides of a smaller sheet of paper at once, a style unique to Pittsburgh and rare within the United States.
Whereas most other papers utilized the same Associated Press wires to fill their pages, the Dispatch had correspondents posted nationwide, as well as a London bureau to report international news. The Dispatch also employed Elizabeth Cochrane, a female journalist who, under the pen name Nellie Bly, wrote about the plight of working women and reported from Mexico as a correspondent during the 1880s.
Rook’s son Charles was editor-in-chief for the Dispatch for its last twenty-five years. Under his direction, the paper was responsible for supporting the movement to provide pure water to Pittsburgh, as well as agitating for improved roads and waterways in western Pennsylvania. When Charles Rook left the paper to become Pittsburgh’s Director of the Department of Public Safety in 1923, the Dispatch was sold to the Union Publishing Company, a temporary conglomeration of Pittsburgh daily papers, which discontinued its publication.
Provided by: Penn State University Libraries; University Park, PA