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Hard-cider, tetanus deaths and poisoned ice cream: ICPL launches an online archive of historic Iowa City newspapers


The front page of the Iowa Capitol Reporter, Dec. 4, 1841

On Tuesday, decades of Iowa City history suddenly became much more accessible, when the Iowa City Public Library launched an online archive of newspapers covering the years 1841 to 1925. The searchable archive features editions from seven different Iowa City newspapers previously available only on microfilm at the library.

“Having a primary resource is an invaluable way to get details and day to day information from the time period,” Information Librarian Candice Smith said in press release announcing the archive’s launch.

It’s also pretty entertaining.

Clicking on the first link of the first newspaper listed on the homepage takes you to the Iowa City Daily Press for Friday, July 1, 1904, from which you learn the reading public of 1904 enjoyed stories about death and bloodshed.

The front page was dominated by news of the now largely forgotten Russo-Japanese War, but also featured two Iowa stories about suicide (one person shot himself, the other drank carbolic acid). The second page has a story looking forward to the coming Fourth of July celebrations by giving statistics about deaths and injuries caused by the previous year’s celebrations (475 deaths nationwide, 415 of which were caused by tetanus resulting from fireworks-related injuries).

Even some of the ads of 1904 have a slightly macabre air. The Daily Press front page has a “news” item submitted by Henry Louis, special agent of the Herpicide Company of Detroit, “To Kill the Dandruff Germ.” The paragraph-long piece explains Newbro’s Herpicide is the only “preparation” that can cure dandruff and prevent dandruff-related baldness.

Better still is the front page ad from the Candy Kitchen, which strongly suggests other Iowa City stores might be selling poisoned ice cream.

Ad for The Candy Kitchen, front page of the Iowa City Daily Press, Jan. 5, 1924.

Searching for particular historical events also produces interesting results. On April 14, 1861, troops from South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, setting off the Civil War. It made news nationwide, of course, but it’s not mentioned in that week’s edition of The Iowa City Republican (motto: “Independent in Everything”). Perhaps the news came too late for the April 17 edition. But the Republican made up for it in the following week — its main story on the war featured 17 separate subheadlines. But anyone interested in the state and local reactions to the start of the war had to turn to page 2.

“Never in the history of any people has there been a more generous and quick response to the call of the country, than Iowa has made to the call for volunteers,” begins a story titled “Iowa Awake.” Elsewhere on the page, another story explained,

Muscatine has the honor of tendering the first company under the call of the Governor. Iowa City is second on the roll. That will do. Had Gov. Kirkwood been here to receive them, the Iowa City boys would have been first on the list.

The earliest paper in the archive is the Dec. 4, 1841, Iowa Capitol Reporter. Most of the front page is dedicated to political news around the country, but the first story on the page explained how to subscribe to the newspaper (“three dollars per annum in advance”).

There’s an accidental bit of symmetry between the first and last newspapers in the archive. Beneath the piece on subscription is a story about a local glee club — part of whose glee may have come from drinking — learning new songs, “Hard-Cider Harmonies.” The final entry in the archive is the Feb. 5, 1925, Red and White, the school paper of Iowa City High School. Its banner headline was “Glee Clubs to Give Play.” According to that story, “It will include many of the tasty songs, both new and old, with which everyone is familiar.”

Front page of the Red and White, Feb. 5, 1925.

Access to the archive is free, and no password or ID is required.


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