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The Washington Hatchet began as a weekly humor newspaper, with its first issue published on Saturday, December 1, 1883. Its earliest known editor was William T. Talbott and its first publisher was William H. Pope. Taking its title from the famous anecdote of a youthful George Washington confessing to chopping down the cherry tree, the newspaper cheekily adopted the slogan "I can't tell a lie" despite its fictionalized "reporting." The paper often included satirical political commentary, and its front page regularly featured political cartoons by the eminent George Y. Coffin (later the Washington Post's official cartoonist). As one of its own advertisements aptly described, the Hatchet was a publication full of "amusing anecdotes, edifying editorials, racy reading, short stories, pathetic poems, light literature, funny pictures, and other literary and humorous features." The eight-page paper, which cost readers a nickel, enjoyed a circulation of 12,470 at its peak in 1884, when it sold in as many as 26 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
After its initial success, however, the Hatchet underwent a dramatic transformation. Isaac LaRue Johnson briefly took over as proprietor but was quickly replaced by publisher William J. Armstrong and his business manager J. E. Armstrong. William Armstrong formerly published the National Free Press, a serious, independent newspaper in Washington, and he brought a more thoughtful tone to his newly acquired publication. The collection digitized here represents this later incarnation of the Hatchet, with coverage of actual news events like the Pan American Exposition mixed in with articles on sports, theater, history, moral issues, and anecdotes of interesting local and international happenings. The heavily pictorial format of the earlier issues was replaced by a four-page, text-heavy layout.
The last decade of the Hatchet was a period of tumultuous decline; the paper moved offices five times and by 1887 circulation had dropped to 2,000 subscribers. While the exact causes of its decline are unknown, the vague and rather incoherent vision of its later incarnation may have played a role. The early Hatchet modeled itself on national humor magazines like Puck and the Judge, but even then its vision of a national audience never became a reality. After its reincarnation as a mixed bag of news, sports, and drama, the Hatchet failed to locate an exploitable niche in the competitive world of Washington newspapers. By 1902 it had ceased publication.
Provided by: Library of Congress, Washington, DC