Union Leader has seen change, recorded history in a century and a half
August 31. 2013 11:33PM
It has been 150 years and counting.
That is how long the New Hampshire Union Leader, which includes the New Hampshire Sunday News among our titles, has published continuously as a daily newspaper. We are noting that anniversary this year with a forthcoming book - "New Hampshire: 150 Years Through the Eyes of the New Hampshire Union Leader" - and with the inclusion in today's newspaper of a special section looking at some of the countless news events and historic figures that have been chronicled in that time span.
The newspaper's antecedents go back even further than 150 years. Manchester Historic Association Executive Director Aurore Eaton recently noted this in her weekly "Looking Back" column for the Union Leader.
She wrote of Manchester merchant Joseph Kidder partnering with William H. Kimball to establish the Manchester Democrat, a weekly newspaper, in April 1842. Nine years later, having left Kimball, Kidder helped establish the Union Democrat, which claimed to represent the Democratic Party.
It was born Manchester Union in 1861, reverted to the Union Democrat name in early 1863, and then emerged with new owners as the Manchester Daily Union in March of that war-torn year. It has been publishing ever since.
As its 50th anniversary edition noted in 1913, "It was a lusty babe, this Manchester Daily Union, for it was born with certain faculties fully developed. Like many dailies it grew out of a weekly paper, well established, vigorous and successful."
Then, as now, it was always outspoken and occasionally controversial. It began by opposing Abraham Lincoln's prosecution of the Civil War. On one occasion, incensed Union soldiers marched on the editor's home, with noose in hand. He was not there. A century later, its editorials would find fault with Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. It called Eisenhower "Dopey Dwight," accused Kennedy of being the nation's Number One Liar and said LBJ was Snake Oil Lyndon.
Despite its raucous start, it quickly became New Hampshire's largest newspaper and established itself as the only publication distributed statewide and covering it, as a slogan said, "From Coos to the Sea."
The "Leader" part of the Union Leader debuted in 1912 when newspaperman Frank Knox came to town. He had fought alongside fellow Rough Rider Col. Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish American War in Cuba and visited in New Hampshire in his effort to draft Roosevelt to run again for President.
Rebuffed in his offer to buy the Union, Knox and partner John Muehling founded the Evening Leader in October 1912. Soon enough, the Union's owner threw in the towel and the Union-Leader Company was formed. The Morning Union was the statewide paper, with the Evening Leader covering Greater Manchester. In the mid-1920s, the company acquired the rival Manchester Mirror daily as well.
Knox, the first of the two most famous owners of the paper, later managed the Hearst newspaper chain and owned the Chicago Daily News. But he gained national attention as No. 2 to Alf Landon on the 1936 Republican presidential ticket and was even better known when he agreed to serve Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt as U.S. Navy secretary in World War II.
It was William Loeb, who bought the Union and Leader from Knox's widow in 1946, who would join the names into the Manchester Union Leader and, later, the New Hampshire Union Leader. Loeb also bought, in 1948, the two-year-old New Hampshire Sunday News.
Loeb, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt's White House secretary, quickly became nationally known for his biting front-page editorials and his interest in presidential politics. It was a timely interest because New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary was just coming to national prominence.
Loeb's editorial epithets, his strong anti-Communist views, and his outspoken opposition to New Hampshire adopting a state sales or general income tax became his newspapers' hallmarks.
Loeb's Union Leader had its detractors, and he gave them space, running so many letters to the editor that his editors complained it was squeezing their news space. But in that news space, even some political foes cited a fair hand. Notably, Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, whom Loeb had called a "skunk" on Page One, acknowledged receiving fair coverage in the news columns.
Loeb died in 1981 and was succeeded by his widow, Nackey Scripps Loeb. She was the granddaughter of another newspaperman, publishing magnate E.W. Scripps. In her time (she died in 2000), she did away with the afternoon edition, purchased several area weekly papers, and moved the newspaper offices from downtown Manchester to their eastern industrial park location.
She also pushed her team to start an online presence, UnionLeader.com, but cautioned not to "give away" all the news content.
William Loeb had left his stock in the company (amounting to 25 percent after taxes) to the William Loeb Union Leader Trust for the benefit of employees. Worried that a similar tax liability would force her heirs to sell the paper, Mrs. Loeb directed that her controlling shares be given to the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications Inc. The nonprofit school, founded in 1999, provides free courses, open to all, in various communication and media arts. (See Loebschool.org.)
The pace of change in the newspaper industry has only increased since the dawning of the 21st century. Newspapers have been sold or shuttered or reduced their footprints and outsourced production. The Union Leader and Sunday News have not been immune to the change or the challenges.
Our statewide distribution remains in place, with some of our papers delivered by agreement with smaller local papers. We, in turn, deliver some other papers, including the Wall Street Journal.
In one of the biggest changes, we contracted this year with Seacoast Media Group to print all of our publications. That move has enabled us to concentrate even more on the task that has been front and center for us since our earliest days: providing the news, informed opinion and advertising that are important to New Hampshire and her citizens.