ONE HUNDRED-AND-FIFTY YEARS AGO today, seventeen-year-old Michael De Young and his brother, nineteen-year-old Charles De Young, launched a newspaper that would become the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We shall do our utmost to enlighten mankind … and San Francisco … of actions, intentions, sayings, doings, move- ments, successes, failures, oddities, peculiarities, and speculations, of ‘us poor mortals here below,’” declared the introductory editorial for the first issue of The Daily Dramatic Chronicle.
Filled with theater advertisements and drama critiques, along with a bit of news, the little (it measured four by six inches) eight-page 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 a scoop on one of the stories of the century.
The Chronicle soon 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 De Young, 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.