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 1865. As 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. The paper became known for 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.