Waco Examiner

Dubbed the “Athens of Texas” by many who praised the veritable wealth of knowledge found within the city, Waco boasted a host of educational institutions and news sources which promoted the distribution of information. First established in 1865, just a few years after Waco incorporated, the Waco Examiner was one of the city’s first newspapers. 

John Wesley Downs published the first issue of the Waco Examiner in 1865As editor in chief, Downs employed Henry Payne as his assistant editor and J. M. Conrad to run the paper’s mechanical department. Conrad printed the semiweekly, four-page paper using a Franklin common press, a handpress which used a large wooden screw to create an impression upon paper.

As the reputation of the Waco Examiner grew, Downs expanded the paper’s services. In 1868, Payne and Conrad sold their interests to Downs. Shortly thereafter, Downs began to offer a weekly publication in addition to the semiweekly subscription. By November of 1873, the popularity of the Waco Examiner had reached unseen heights. Downs quickly altered the structure of subscriptions once again, eliminating the semiweekly issue and instituting a new daily paper.

As more Wacoans subscribed to the Daily Examiner, Downs’s profits also increased. In 1873, citizens could purchase a yearly subscription to the daily paper for $8, or receive the weekly issue for $2.50 per year. By the late 1880s, the daily subscription cost $10, while the price of the weekly issue had dropped to $1.50. Downs continued to develop the business and began to offer customers the option to purchase the paper for one, three, four, and six months at a time, in addition to the yearly subscriptions.

The Examiner papers were associated with the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, an organization which worked to advance agricultural and political causes on behalf of farmers throughout America. In 1873, the Weekly Examiner was made the official mouthpiece of the Patrons of Husbandry in Texas. When the paper reached a circulation of thirteen thousand, Downs changed the name to the Daily Examiner and Patron. Downs’s support of the Grange led him to purchase the Waco Telephone, another paper which served as a mouthpiece for the Texas Grange, and to incorporate it into the Daily Examiner. Thepaper became knownfor a short time as the Waco Daily Examiner and Telephone. Downs continued to support the granger movement until it adopted the greenback policy, an attempt to return to currency not backed by gold, around 1878.

On May 18, 1875, the Examiner office burned down, completely destroying Downs’s printing equipment. The paper remained out of print for two months while Downs recovered from the losses. Although the paper appeared once again in July, Downs sold it just a few years later in 1882 to Captain John E. Elgin.

In September of 1884, the firm of Bartow, Cravens, and Leachman purchased the paper from Elgin. The new firm focused more broadly upon local, regional, state, national, and international news rather than the interests of the Grange. On November 24, 1887, the paper changed firms again. The Examiner Publishing Company, directed by Frank P. Cravens, continued to run the paper until it ceased publication in 1888.

By the late 1880s, the Waco Examiner claimed to have the largest circulation record of any paper in Texas. In a town where life increasingly depended upon agriculture, the paper sought to protect the interests of farmers while fostering discussion and sharing information. 

Images

Sanger Bros. Advertisement (December 18,1875)

Sanger Bros. Advertisement (December 18,1875)

At its inception, the four-page semiweekly Examiner consisted primarily of advertisements for various Waco business ventures, such as Sanger Brothers department store. As the paper grew, the news portion grew considerably to feature an eight hundred word Associated Press service, as well as sections covering national and world news in “Telegrams from all Parts of the World" and "Markets by Telegraph." | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Digital Newspaper Program View File Details Page

September 6, 1878

September 6, 1878

News sources such as the Examiner played crucial roles in conveying information and tempering fear in times of crisis, such as the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 in the Lower Mississippi Valley. In this September edition of the Examiner, a short Associated Press story covered the growing death toll in New Orleans, while a longer human interest story detailed the bravery of several young women who risked contracting the disease in order to nurse convalescent soldiers in Texas. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Digital Newspaper Program View File Details Page

"Newspaper Boy"

"Newspaper Boy"

Boys such as this young man pictured in Edward Mitchell Bannister’s 1869 painting possibly distributed the Examiner to Wacoans. The paper likely employed a large number of such workers by the time the daily circulation reached 13,000. | Source: Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum View File Details Page

June 5, 1885

June 5, 1885

The article titled “Our Indian Imps” reflects the general U.S policy toward Native Americans during this time period. The writer details how the military did “a big heap of chasing but not an iota of catching the red devils” in attempts to place the “savage Indians” under military control and keep them from roaming at large. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Digital Newspaper Program View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Dayton Kelley, ed., The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas and Amanda Sawyer, “Waco Examiner,” Waco History, accessed May 29, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/100.

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