Maine: An Encyclopedia

Blethen, Alden J.

(1845-1915) was born and raised in Waldo County and rose to become a media baron in the early years of the 20th century.

His grandfather, Joseph Blethen, settled in what is now Thorndike and built his homestead in the 1810’s after moving from Durham. He became moderator of the town meeting in 1814, and later an assessor, overseer of the poor, and selectman. He and his wife had nine children.

Alden, Joseph’s youngest son, married Abigail Lamson from Knox in 1837, labored in a town store, as a carpenter and dairy farmer. Alden Joseph Blethen was one of his six children, born on December 27, 1845.

Before he was three, his father had died penniless. Soon his mother abandoned all the children who became paupers, wards of the town, until they were auctioned off to families who would care for them, train them, and use their labor. According to his biographers, after living with his aunt and uncle until he was ten,

as Blethen later put it, “I was put up at auction, to be knocked down to the highest bidder.” . . . and the boy grew up in loveless homes, a pauper on the town dole and a stranger within the household, valued only for his muscle. As an old man he told his younger son his story of these years. It was a bitter tale of abandonment and drudgery. [Boswell, p.5]

Eventually his mother, who had remarried, reunited the children, but Alden was not comfortable in the new family. He attended school, then taught school, and in 1864 enrolled in the Maine Wesleyan Seminary and Female College (now Kent’s Hill School) in Kent’s Hill, now Readfield.

He married Rose Ann Hunter of Strong in 1869, a teacher at the Phillips village school as he was. By 1873 he and his family had moved to Portland. Blethen had begun a law practice, and became acquainted with James G. Blaine and Thomas Brackett Reed.

In 1879 he became embroiled in the Greenbacker inspired “Counting Out” scandal, in which the Greenback Party and its Governor Alonzo Garcelon refused to count the votes for several Republican legislative candidates alleging irregularities in their elections. In 1880, on the losing side of the “Counting Out” adventure, and publicly humiliated primarily by his overzealous colleagues, he decided to move to Missouri for “health” reasons.

Blethen became prosperous and influential in Kansas City, Missouri, then moved to Minneapolis purchasing the Tribune newspaper. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor. Eventually his publishing ventures ended in financial disaster and bankruptcy. He moved his family again in 1896, this time to Seattle where they stayed with relatives.

With a dose of fast talk, nerve, and money borrowed from his relatives, Blethen bought the Seattle Times, turning it into a voice of populism and a successful publishing venture.

Alden J. Blethen died July 12, 1915. Eighty-three years later in 1998 his company bought the Gannet newspapers in Maine under the name Blethen Maine Newspapers.

Additional resources

Boswell, Sharon A. and Lorraine McConaghy. Raise Hell and Sell Newspapers: Alden J. Blethen & The Seattle Times. Pullman, Washington. Washington State University Press. 1996.

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This entry was last modified: November 28, 2011 09:16 PM

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