The history of the early press in Maine is marked by a decided lack of stability. Publishers often started a newspaper, formed a partnership, then moved on to begin another paper. Some of the papers endured, but few in their original form; many disappeared after several years.
Almost one hundred years after New England’s first newspaper, the first paper in the District of Maine appeared in 1785. It was printed in Falmouth, which then encompassed an area including present-day Portland, now the largest city in the state. Known as the Falmouth Gazette, the paper was published by two men, Thomas Baker Wait and Benjamin Titcomb, both of whom had learned the newspaper trade in Massachusetts. Titcomb soon retired, and for the next five years, Wait had the only printing office in the state, during which time the newspaper underwent several name changes.
In the fall of 1790, competition arose from another Portland newspaper, the Gazette of Maine, but by 1796, the two newspapers had consolidated under a new owner, John Baker. He met with difficulty obtaining both news and supplies from the rest of the country, and abandoned the paper to his partner in 1800. It lasted until 1804.
The pattern of newspaper publishing was similar in the Augusta-Hallowell area. One paper, in several publishing combinations and under two different names, was published between 1794 and 1797. A second paper, established by Peter Edes in 1795, lasted in many guises until 1815. Peter Edes then moved north to Bangor, where he started the Weekly Register.
There were at least three other towns with newspapers before 1800 (Wiscasset, Fryeburg, and Castine), showing that both coastal and inland towns could support a newspaper. These efforts were short-lived, although the Castine paper did reappear for one year (1802) under the name of the Columbian Informer. The publisher moved on to the Bangor area to start and publish another paper (Penobscot Patriot) for a year.
By 1800, there were five papers in Maine, and all were weeklies. There were three in Portland, one in Hallowell, and one in Castine. Fifteen years later, only one of those five survived, but an additional five papers existed. Maine had a population of almost 250,000 and the papers were geographically spread. Hallowell was the only area with two papers, and Portland, Kennebunk, and Bangor each had one.
In 1803 “gentlemen of the Republican party” invited Nathaniel P. Willis, father of the widely acclaimed journalist Nathaniel Parker Willis, to move from Boston to Portland to establish the Eastern Argus “in opposition to the Federalists.” (Beers, p. 8) During the 1815 statehood debate, the Eastern Argus, a Democratic-Republican paper, argued for separation from Massachusetts. The Federalist Portland Gazette contained many spirited arguments against it.
When Maine achieved statehood in 1820, three more papers had been added to the roster, with one each in Brunswick, Bath, and Eastport. Ten of Maine’s counties had published at least one newspaper. Maine’s first daily came out in 1832, and Aroostook County, the last of the sixteen counties to publish a paper, put out its first in 1857, when much of its land was still wilderness.
Throughout the second half of the 19th century, newspapers in Maine proliferated. Prominent politicians, such as James G. Blaine and Hannibal Hamlin, were among the owners. As the population spread inland, the press followed.
The development of the pulpwood paper process in 1860s made newsprint inexpensive. By 1870, there were over seventy papers in the state informing a population of 600,000 people. The circulation of the dailies was 9,000; of the tri-weeklies, 300; and of the weeklies, 141,000. Fluidity was the norm, as papers began over specific political issues, faded or grew with political parties, and merged and separated due to economics and/or politics. In his History of the Press of Maine (1872), Joseph Griffin estimated that one third of the periodicals were devoted to “moral, religious, literary, or scientific matter.”
With a decline in Maine’s population by the end of the 19th century and the increasing professionalism of the newspaper trade, the number of papers in Maine decreased slightly and papers were more likely to deliver news than to reflect the personal viewpoints of earlier years. In 1928, there were ten dailies, two tri-weeklies, one semi-weekly, and forty-eight weeklies in the state. Fifty-three of Maine towns had a paper, including fourteen of the sixteen county seats.
Two publishing companies — Guy Gannett Publishing Company and Bangor Publishing Company — dominated the mainstream press for decades. Guy Gannet published the daily paper in several of the state’s largest cities, including Portland. Blethen Maine Newspapers company of Seattle, founded by Alden J. Blethen of Thorndike in 1915, purchased the Gannet papers in 1998. Each paper has a separate editorial board, and is run as a separate entity.
The Bangor Publishing Company produces the Bangor Daily News in the second largest city in the state, as well as several weekly papers throughout the state. No city has more than one daily paper.
There was one other statewide paper, the weekly Maine Times, which was started in the late 1960’s as a liberal alternative to the mainstream press. It struggled to survive and discontinued publishing in 2002. Many of Maine’s smaller towns have semi-weekly or weekly papers. Some of these provide full news coverage, but most concentrate on the local news.
Now virtually all newspapers have Internet sites with limited news selections supported by on-line advertising.
Collections of Newspapers in Maine
There is no single repository that holds a majority of Maine’s newspaper titles. The Maine Historical Society in Portland holds the largest number of titles as well as the largest number of unique titles, accounting for approximately 30% of the Maine titles identified on the planning database. Complementing the Society’s collection, the Portland Public Library has a good collection with an extraordinarily detailed inventory. Both organizations have been conducting ongoing microfilming of their collections as funding has permitted.
The second largest collection is at the Maine State Library in Augusta, 50 miles to the northeast, and the third area of concentration is in the Bangor/Orono area, an additional 80 miles northeast from Augusta. The State Library does have a good collection of microfilm, but has not been filming its collection of originals.
The largest concentration of newspaper microfilm is at the University of Maine Fogler Library. The University also has many unique titles which have not been filmed. Both the Bangor Public Library and the Bangor Historical Society have considerable collections, with a combined 17 unique titles. Substantial collections with good inventories also exist at the Bowdoin College Library (Brunswick) and the Dyer Library in Saco, although they have fewer unique titles.
Although these are the three areas where newspapers are concentrated, Maine’s history of fiercely independent towns, historical societies, and libraries, means that there are a considerable number of papers scattered elsewhere throughout the state. Over 100 repositories (historical societies, libraries, museums) responded to a survey that they do have newspapers, and there are almost 40 titles that were not reported at the Portland, Augusta, and Bangor/Orono sites or at the Bowdoin or Dyer Libraries.
— Janet Roberts, Maine Newspaper Project, 1998. Revised, James Henderson, 2002 and 2004.
Ayer Directory of Publications. Philadelphia, IMS Press. [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library]
Beers, Henry A. Nathaniel Parker Willis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1885.
Brigham. History and bibliography of American newspapers, 1690-1820: including additions and corrections, 1961. Hamden. Conn. Archon Books. 1962. c1947.
Fassett, Jr. A History of Newspapers in the District of Maine, 1785-1820. Orono, Me. Printed at the University Press. 1932.
Gregory, ed. American newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada. New York: Kraus Reprint Corp. 1967.
Griffin, 1872. History of the Press of Maine. Brunswick, Me. From the Press of J. Griffin. 1874. [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library, Special Collections]
Miller, 1978. The History of Current Maine Newspapers. Lisbon Falls, Me. Eastland Press. c1978.