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San Francisco Call newspaper header

The San Francisco Call [LCCN: sn85066387] began life December 1, 1856 as the Daily Morning Call [LCCN: sn82014859]. It was founded by James Joseph Ayers and three partners. Ayers remained editor and senior partner until May 23, 1866 when the name of publisher changed to P. B. Forster and Company, Forster being one of the aforementioned partners. In 1871 the name of the publisher changed to the San Francisco Call Company. No editor was identified nor any other management figure until January 8, 1895 when Charles M. Shortridge was listed as Editor and Proprietor. For some years he had also owned the San Jose Daily Mercury [LCCN: sn93051505] and ran the papers in tandem until August 14, 1897 when he handed it over to John D. Spreckels . Spreckels, heir to an Hawaiian sugar magnate, made his own fortune in shipping. He bought the San Diego Union and Daily Bee [LCCN: sn86064440] in 1890 and the Evening Tribune [LCCN: sn88084203] in 1901. In later years other names joined Spreckels, first a manager, John McNaught, succeeded in 1907 by Charles W. Horneck, and a managing editor, Ernest S. Simpson. In late 1913 Spreckels turned over control to Frederick William Kellogg as President and Publisher. The end of the era came on December 13 of that year when the San Francisco Call merged with the San Francisco Evening Post [LCCN: sn94052992] and became the San Francisco Call and Post [LCCN: sn86064451]. Kellogg, a Pasadena newspaper publisher and later the founder of La Jolla, emerged as sole proprietor. Throughout its history the paper was staunchly Republican though it did identify itself as Independent on the masthead towards the end of Spreckels's tenure.

Although it always had a number of competitors, there were twelve, for example, in 1858, it retained its role as the leading morning newspaper until its merger with the San Francisco Evening Post in 1913. As early as August 2, 1864 it boasted "the daily circulation is larger than that of any other paper published in San Francisco." By the end of the month it was extended to the "largest circulation on the Pacific Coast." In November 1865 the circulation figure was 10,750 and it rose steadily over the years to 41,066 in October 1880. In 1884 it could state it had double the circulation of any other daily, but the actual figure was no longer published. On New Year's Day in 1886 it claimed half a million readers. By 1894 it was only "larger than any other newspaper." In the first decade of the twentieth century the San Francisco Call was one of three major morning dailies (the others were the San Francisco Chronicle [LCCN: sn82003402] and the San Francisco Examiner [LCCN: sn82006825], both established 1864) and two evening dailies (the Bulletin [LCCN: sn85040229], established 1855, and the San Francisco Evening Post, established 1856). Along with circulation it also increased in size. For many years it was a four page daily with a weekly, published on Tuesdays, and a Sunday edition; it added a Monday issue by 1874. During the period 1900 to 1910 the size stabilized at 12-14 pages for daily issues and 42-48 pages for Sunday. In the 1860s three-quarters of the space was taken up by ads. Vital statistics do not seem to have been included regularly until 1874.

The Call reached the peak of its influence, coverage and quality in the early twentieth century during the regime of Spreckels. This was signalized most notably by the construction of the Call Building at Third and Market, at 315 feet the tallest building for many years west of the Mississippi. The most notable additions to the newspaper were the illustrations and political cartoons which began in the early 1890s. The Call maintained a roster of artists such as Maynard Dixon, Arthur James Cahill, and Walter W. Francis, who depicted major events, the beauties of California, society women, politicians, topics of all kinds, although as the decade progressed photographs began to displace drawings. By 1904 there was a magazine section and two supplements. Novels were serialized in the Sunday issue and from at least June 1903, there was a syndicated four page comic insert. At the beginning of 1908 an eight page tabloid supplement entitled the Junior Call appeared every Saturday. Two indexes are available on microfiche from the California State Library: one for the years 1893-1904; a second one for the period 1904-1913, combined with indexes for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner for the years from 1914 to the mid-century.

Dr. Henry Snyder

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