ON THIS DATE in 1865, a pair of teenagers launched what would become one of the highest-circulation West Coast newspapers — the San Francisco Chronicle. Michael and Charles de Young, seventeen and nineteen, started a little (it measured four by six inches) eight-page newspaper originally called The Daily Dramatic Chronicle.
“We shall do our utmost to enlighten mankind … and San Francisco … of actions, intentions, sayings, doings, movements, successes, failures, oddities, peculiarities, and speculations, of ‘us poor mortals here below,’” declared the introductory editorial of the Daily Dramatic Chronicle. Originally filled with theater advertisements, drama critiques, and a little bit of news, the newspaper received a huge circulation boost with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln just three months after the paper’s debut. The president’s death at 4:22 a.m. Pacific Time occurred too late for San Francisco’s morning newspapers to get the news out right away, meaning the Chronicle, the city’s only afternoon paper, had the scoop on the story of the year.
The Chronicle acquired a reputation for colorful writing, thanks to a reporting staff that briefly included Mark Twain. Renamed the Daily Chronicle in 1868, the newspaper’s circulation exceeded 30,000 by 1873, making it the most-read paper in what was then the most populous city in the western United States. Michael, who initially handled the business affairs, took over as managing editor when Charles was shot and killed by the son of San Francisco’s mayor in 1880. In the 1900s, the San Francisco Chronicle emerged as one of the nation’s highest-circulation newspapers.