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During the first week of June 1903, aspiring publisher George McCulloch paid a hot air balloonist $650 to drift over the countryside and drop 500,000 paper stars. Indianapolis residents were puzzled by this strange turn of events, which culminated on June 5 when thousands of additional stars were scattered from the top of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument.

The mystery of the falling stars was solved the following morning, when Indianapolis residents woke up to find a free copy of the inaugural edition of the Indianapolis Star on their doorsteps. Although it’s doubtful that any of McCulloch’s stars still exist, thanks to the “newspaper wars” that raged in Indianapolis for more than 100 years, collectors can easily find a wide range of promotional items that were used to help hawk the Star and its numerous competitors.

At a time when most of the other morning newspapers were backed by political parties, the Star billed itself as “an independent newspaper for the people”, selling for 7 cents a week or 1 cent a copy. Focusing on these key attributes, one of the Star’s earliest promotional items was a tin match holder, meant to hang above the kitchen stove and remind the lady of the house when she lit the fire for breakfast that her family needed a morning paper to keep abreast of the latest news.

Star match holder

This Indianapolis Morning Star match holder and most of the other items featured in this article are from the collection of David Yount.

Such promotional items helped push circulation in a market that was already saturated with news print. The Indianapolis Journal and the Sentinel, both morning papers, had been the voices of the Republican and Democrat parties, respectively, since Indiana’s pioneer days. The Indianapolis News, an independent 2-cent afternoon paper, was first published in 1869 and was going strong at the turn of the 20th century. The Indianapolis Sun and the Indianapolis Times were other local papers, as well. Competition was fierce for both readers and advertising.

During the newspaper wars, calendars were popular promotional items that were either given away as prizes or sold by newsboys for extra cash. This Indianapolis Journal calendar from 1902 featured Maude Adams, a popular American stage actress. Indianapolis News carriers hoping for a few extra bucks gave their loyal customers a Christmas calendar in 1890, and sold the “Gem Edition” in 1896, a little calendar book packed with inspirational sayings.

Calendars

Thermometers were a more expensive promotional item but unlike calendars, hung on the wall for years as silent testimony to the newspaper’s accuracy (or lack thereof) in predicting the weather. This 30″ porcelain Indianapolis News thermometer bears the slogan “The Great Hoosier Daily”, touting the fact that during the mid-1900s, the News had the largest circulation of any paper in the state.

News_thermometer
Newsboys played a vital role in promotional efforts by ensuring that newspapers got into the hands of paying customers. This role was originally filled by orphans and street urchins who sold papers on street corners for pennies a day. The plight of Indianapolis’ newsboys captured the attention of the National Child Labor Committee photographer Lewis Hine, who shot this photo of a barefoot boy selling papers on Washington Street in 1908. A few years earlier, Indianapolis philanthropist M.V. McGilliard had founded a Newsboys Home on North Alabama Street, which was the predecessor to the Indianapolis Boys Club.

With the passage of more stringent child labor laws, the job of newsboy gained respectability for enterprising youth. Eugene Pulliam, who bought the Star in 1944 and the News in 1948, started his journalism career in Lebanon in the 1920s carrying a newspaper bag exactly like the one pictured here.

bag
Newsboys also stood on street corners hawking special editions, including the Indianapolis News’ Green edition, which had the latest sports news, and the Blue Streak, which was the last issue of the day and featured market and sports news. These child-size newsboy aprons were purchased in 2009 at a local antique mall for $15 each.

Aprons
If you look closely at this photo from the 1930s, you’ll see a boy on the far left wearing a Green edition apron.

Newsboys1

Being a newsboy was not all work and no play. The News established a long-running Newsboys’ Band, pictured here at the 1893 World’s Fair.

newsboys

Star carriers in the early 20th century were provided sturdy wooden wagons, which doubled as toys.

Star_wagon_photo

Given the exposure to horseplay as well as the elements, surviving examples like the one pictured here are rare.

Star_wagon

In 1963, the Star celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special edition that promised readers “you can be sure that The Star will be in the forefront of the journalism of the atomic age and ages yet to come just as it has been throughout the automobile and airplane ages.”

By the time the Star celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003, it had outlasted all of its daily competitors, including the News, which rolled off the presses for the last time on October 1, 1999.

Whether the Star can survive the Internet age remains to be seen. But here’s hoping that long after the presses give way to the ethereal cloud, there will still be plenty of tangible reminders of the days when print journalism thrived in Indianapolis.

4 responses to “Indianapolis Collected: Spoils of the Newspaper Wars”

  1. Nikoletta says:

    I just came into possession of some Indianapolis Newsboy’s Band artifacts and was looking online to learn more about this wonderful band from the past. Found this GREAT article above, thanks so much for writing it. Would you please email me so I can ask your opinion of what organization would most benefit from me passing on some scanned I.N.B.B items? Thanks!

  2. donna mikels shea says:

    Wonderful article and comes as some of we few surviving writers/reporters from back when our city had daily newspapers are wondering where we should archive the clips we kept from Times/News/Star when it was a local paper—and that includes not just clips and photos but some of the wonderful promotional artifacts–e.g. Gerry Lafollette has a wonderful old fashioned “snow ball”–the kind you shake and flakes come dusting down and it portrays an urchin-looking news boy complete with bag on his carrier route. I have some Indianapolis News playing cards of Hoosier authors, a wonderful glass barometer, thermometer from Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette, an Indianapolis Times outside paper box, and gee, what else? Strangest is a pebbled heavy glass flat piece of glass with a leather thong at one end imprinted Vincennes Commercial (as I recall)–it is packed away so I can’t look–I found it and sent as a gag gift to internatjonally known jazz pianist Jane Jarvis (longtime organist for NYMets) whose hometown was Vincennes and who later received honorary doctorate from Vincennes U. Neither of us could ever rigure out its function unless it was to roll out home-made candy/fudge–very unlikely. But also–about News Boys Band–I have a very large framed sepia photograph of the band–year uncertain but perhaps 1900 -ish–because 2 of its members were brothers Wm. Allen Shea (father of my late husband Cortland W. Shea) and Earl Shea. I would b e delighted if a suitable home could be found. Wouldn ‘t it be wonderful if IHS inter=active could create not just an archive of state’s journalism while there are still those around who remember the welcome “thud” of teen paper boy tossing actual local news onto the porch–and before the last remembered echo fades away of that long-ago sound—in the distance one could hear a far-away sound coming closer and becoming more audible until it became that recognizable somewhat alarming single word moving closer and closer”’EXTRA===EXTRA ” and then “read all about it…” and those hearing it left the porch swing or outdoor chores to rush inside and find a few coins to be ready as the carrier came into view. I recall the very last time I heard it–living in the 3400 block of N. Delaware and working as a reporter at the TIMES—the doleful word of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt …almost automatically I went inside to find not just the coins to buy it but the token to get to the nearest bus/streetcar/trolley line (we had all then) to report for work at 214 W. Maryland St. Maybe you cannot live in the past–but it is a wonderful place to visit so come August this year I will hope to be where I was the hot August Day of long ago when thousands thronged there for V-J day. I may be the last survivor who both interviewed the last GAR reunions and documented our city’s turnout that day.

  3. Scott w. Wagner says:

    What a wonderful article!!! As a kid in the 60’s my parents subscribed both the Star and the News, with my dad preferring the Star somewhat due its tradition of being apolitical, although he said the news was “pretty good” too.
    I remember the paper boys delivering papers to our house and collecting for the route. I wanted to be a paperboy when I got older but was discouraged from it when my parents explained how much hard work it was.
    While I realize that change must come and electronic news is it. But I think that we are losing much by losing the smell and feel of a full size newspaper, and relaxing with it on a Sunday morning or after work.

  4. John Warner says:

    What a cool vintage article about the days when newspapers and the Indy Star were as big as life. I have The Indianapolis Morning Star match holder pictured. My mother was and I still am.. antique people. She bought it for me ($90-125?) when I was a staff photographer for The Star back in the ’80-90s. I punched in a few keywords and discovered only this Pinterest post to find out a little bit about it. Would like to post a photo but, not knowing how Pinterest works, it appears I cannot. Thanks for the fun and enlightening post. I loved working for The Star, we felt important!

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