Little Bits of History

The Times are a’Changin

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 1, 2013
John Walter

John Walter

January 1, 1788: The first edition of The Times of London is published. The paper was founded in 1785 by John Walter. Originally called The Daily Universal Register, after 940 issues, the name was changed. Walter was not only founder but editor as well. Born in 1738 or 1739, he was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and became a wealthy coal merchant. He over-speculated as an underwriter for Lloyds of London and went bust.

In 1782, Walter purchased a patent which improved logotypes for printing. Rather than simply letters, there were words or portions of words included. He improved on the idea and in 1784 he bought an old printing office. He began by printing books. Then on January 1, 1785 he started a newspaper. Three years later, he changed the name. It was his pioneering journalistic efforts which brought news from the Continent, especially France, to the London readers. He was sent to Newgate Prison in 1789 for libel printed in The Times.

John Walter, Jr. took over editorship of the paper in 1799 after another libel case was brought against his father. The subject matter covered in the press ranged from politics to science and literature to the arts, all the while building a sound reputation for reporting. Policy makers and financiers read The Times, looking for accurate news from home and abroad. The readership grew and there were few competitors. By 1850, with John Walter III in charge, penny press papers were encroaching on The Times’ turf and financial ruin was a possibility.

The Walters family owned the paper until 1908 when Lord Northcliffe took ownership. The Astor family took over in 1922 and Roy Thompson bought them out in 1966. News International, run by Rupert Murdoch, has owned the paper since 1981. James Harding has been Editor since 2007. The daily paper holds a political allegiance to the center-right. Their headquarters are in Wapping, London. The paper’s circulation is nearly 620,000 with more news available online. The British Business Survey of 2005 named The Times as their preferred UK newspaper.

“Newspapermen learn to call a murderer ‘an alleged murderer’ and the King of England ‘the alleged King of England’ to avoid libel suits.” – Stephen Leacock

“It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.” – Jerry Seinfeld

“A newspaper consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not.” – Henry Fielding

“People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” – A. J. Liebling

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: As the internet provides news for more and more people, the circulation of many papers has fallen and many more have simply gone out of print. The Times remains with both a print and internet presence. They are still owned by News Corporation and James Harding remains the editor. They political alignment is considered to be Conservative (Center-right). Their circulation has fallen to about 400,000 since this was first published.

Also on this day: Julian Calendar – In 45 BC, a new calendar went into effect.
The Granddaddy of them All – In 1890, the first Tournament of Roses parade was held.
Homestead Act – In 1863, the first claim under the Homestead Act was made.

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