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The Anaconda Standard
The Anaconda Standard is considered by historians and journalists alike as the icon of Montana newspapers for its sophistication, the quality of its printing plant, its editorial prowess, its influence beyond Montana’s borders, and its domination of state politics. Its influence can be linked directly to its owner and creator, Marcus Daly, one of Butte’s 19th-century “Copper Kings.”
In 1889, Marcus Daly invested $30,000 to establish a daily newspaper in Anaconda, Montana, a town Daly established in 1883 to house his Anaconda Copper Mining Company smelters. In creating the Anaconda Standard, Daly followed the lead of his mentor, George Hearst, a man Daly learned the mining business from in Nevada. Hearst had bought the San Francisco Examiner in 1880, which ultimately grew into the Hearst publishing empire. Daly sought out the expertise of John Durston, publisher of the Syracuse Standard and a professor of philology, to operate his infant newspaper. The inaugural issue of the Anaconda Standard hit the newsstands on September 4, 1889, just one month prior to the special election on the Montana constitution and two months prior to Montana’s entry into the Union.
The eight-page, six-column newspaper boasted a contemporary design and layout while providing readers with news of the nation, region, state, and city. The first issue posted stories about a race riot in Louisiana, trotting races in Springfield, Massachusetts, the shipment of eastern rainbow trout to Yellowstone National Park, forest fires near Helena, and a Boston lecture by Charles Dickens. The Democratic newspaper declared its editorial philosophy in the first issue: “the Standard would not be ‘blindly partisan’, its politics will be in no sense personal.” The next 39 years would in fact provide ample evidence to the contrary. For the Standard’s entire history, the paper’s editors did the bidding of Marcus Daly and then, after Daly’s death in 1900, of the Anaconda Company and then Amalgamated Copper, a subsidiary of Standard Oil.
The ongoing feud between Butte copper kings, Marcus Daly and William A. Clark, would play out in the two rival newspapers: the Anaconda Standard and the Butte Miner, from 1889 until Daly’s death in 1900. During the winter of 1890-91, the open roasting of copper ore in Butte produced toxic smoke that caused scores of fatalities. The Anaconda Standard editorialized against this practice, advocating instead for Daly’s Anaconda smelters which employed taller smokestacks, while Clark’s newspaper, the Miner, downplayed the problem and its connection to Butte disaster. Ironically, Daly and the Anaconda Standard supported labor unions in battles that ensued in the Coeur d’Alene silver mines, Tennessee coal mines, and steel mills in Pittsburgh during 1893. By contrast, the Standard vehemently opposed the interests of organized labor during the first two decades of the 20th century, while under new corporate ownership of the mines, smelters, and newspaper. The battle between business interests in Montana reached its crescendo during the “capital contest,” the 1894 election to decide the location of the state capital: Daly’s Anaconda versus Clark’s Helena. During an election rife with vote buying and intimidation, Montana voters selected Helena, but not without a valiant struggle waged by the Anaconda Standard.
That same year, Daly’s newspaper installed Mergenthaler Linotype machines, bolstering the Standard’s claim to having the industry’s most up-to-date technology. A sophisticated engraving process allowed a cadre of Standard cartoonists to print a large number of political cartoons daily.
By 1920, the Anaconda Company owned nine of the state’s fourteen major dailies, contributing to the company’s unrivaled political influence, which persisted until the sale of the newspapers to Lee Enterprises in 1959.
Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT