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CityGuide

Herald News History

About Joliet

Contact the newspaper

Joliet's prisons

Rt. 66 raceway

History of the Herald News

 

By John Whiteside
HERALD NEWS COLUMNIST


   What started out as a mistake is the beginning of the story of The Herald News. A fortunate blunder in 1839 became part of this newspaper's proud legacy.

   At the time, Joliet was still known as Juliet. And a printing press was shipped by mistake to Ottawa. The shipper didn't want to return the press and offered it for sale at a bargain price.

   Forseeing a great new business adventure, 13 enterprising investors from Juliet pooled their money and bought the press, which was hauled by a mule team back to the struggling little settlement here.

   The owners hired a Michigan editor, O.H. Balch, to publish the Juliet Courier. Its first issue came out on April 20, 1839. The newspaper was a follower of the philosophy of Thomas jefferson and often quoted from his writings.

   In 1843, the Courier was sold and the new owner changed the name to the Joliet Signal. Four years later, a newspaper rivalry began when the True Democrat started publishing a fourpage weekly.

   With the Joliet Signal still going, the True Democrat changed political parties and its name to the Joliet Republican in 1862. The Civil War was going on and President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

   From the 1840s through the 1870s, the newspapers in Joliet, like elsewhere in the nation, were very political. Editors were often very involved in politics.

   For example, when Abraham Lincoln spoke in Joliet in 1856, the True Democrat refused to quote him or cover the content of his speech. The newspaper referred to him as "the black Republican."

   In 1870, the Joliet Record was founded by three brothers, John, James and Dan Henderson. In operation until 1883, it was one of the first newspapers in this state to use woodcut cartoons.

   In 1877, the Joliet News began publishing its newspaper pages.

   The Joliet Signal eventually was sold to the Joliet Republican, which was sold to the Joliet Herald in 1904.

   Col. Ira Copley entered the newspaper scene in Joliet in 1913 when he bought the Joliet Herald. Two years later, he consolidated his newspaper with the Joliet News.

   And the Joliet Herald-News was born.

   In its first issue, Col. Copley made a promise to the readers:

   "We play the game on the square and print no harmful gossip and no scandal except after one or the other has become a matter of court record, and then we print it no matter who is involved.

   "One other equally important item is our general policy of neighborliness. Friendliness with the people of Joliet and every other community where our newspaper is circulated is a careful rule.

   "We get into no petty squabbles. We fight only on principle. Where there is a definite principle involved, we will fight."

   THE LEGEND OF JOHN LUX

   The story of The Herald-News is also the story of the great newspaper men and women who served this newspaper through the years. None of them was better known than John Francis Lux.

   He had to quit school after the sixth grade and go to work to help support his family. His father had died.

   Lux became a "fly boy," which was an errand boy, for the Joliet Republican. That's where printer's ink started flowing through his body. He was only 11 years old.

   An avid reader, he became a self-made, self-taught man. As Col. Copley formed The Herald-News, Lux volunteered to post the baseball scores for the newspaper for no pay. He loved baseball and did such a good job that he was hired at the salary of $5 a week.

   He soon was allowed to do some sports writing, which he turned into a full-time job as sports writer and then, sports editor. His sports column, "Dope De Luxe," was well read.

   In 1917, he became a reporter, the telegraph editor and then city editor. But when the United States entered into World War I the following year, Lux joined the Army and went to France to fight as a doughboy.

   After the war, he returned to The Herald-News to restart his career as a newspaper reporter.

   During the 1920s, Chicago mob hoodlums infiltrated Joliet like they had done in other nearby cities. The police reporter at this time was a tall, quick-witted Irishman named William Hart.

   Hart and Lux became a team to fight the mob. Between them, they had dozens of sources and they never hesitated to use the power of the press to harass these shady gangster characters.

   Lux eventually was promoted once again to the city editor post.

   In 1932, he was called to Aurora by Col. Copley, who made him the new publisher.

   The Great Depression was deepening. One of Lux's first moves as publisher was to name his old partner, Hart, as advertising director. Just as they had battled the mob together, they battled the Depression to keep the newspaper alive.

   Hart would go on to become publisher of the Aurora Beacon-News, another Copley newspaper, in the early 1950s.

   Under Lux's leadership, The Herald-News was always local-news minded and a community leader. As publisher, he continued to write a front page column under the pen name of Jack Thorne. The extremely popular column was called "I See By The Papers."

   Of course, most readers knew that Thorne was really Lux. The column often quoted such characters as "the girl on the Cass Street bus" and "ma and pa." A book of his collected columns from over a 30-year period was published eventually.

   In 1966, John Francis Lux retired. The man who was known as Mr. Herald-News died in 1984 at the age of 88.

   Lux was succeeded as publisher by William F. Blackburn, who was succeeded by George Fisk. After Fisk retired, Marx Gibson was named General Manager. Then Art Wible served as publisher for all Copley newspapers in Northern Illinois.

   In December 2000, The Herald News was sold, along with its sister Copley newspapers in Aurora, Elgin and Waukegan and weekly newspapers in Naperville, to Hollinger International, publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times. Randy Chapman, former marketing director for Fox Valley Press, was named publisher of The Herald News.

   THE REST OF THE STORY

   For much of this century, The Herald-News was published in a downtown three-story building located at the corner of Scott and Van Buren streets in Joliet.

   The newsroom there, on the second floor, was complete with a horseshoe desk where copy editors worked and wrote headlines. Scattered all around this big open room were desks for reporters who wrote to the tune of Associated Press and United Press International wire machines clacking out the state, national and world news of the day.

   On June 3, 1936, the newspaper made history when it published a 2.5-pound seven-section newspaper during the celebration of this city's 100th birthday. This was the largest newspaper ever published in Illinois outside of Chicago.

   In its pages was a congratulatory telegram to John Lux from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

   In the 1940s, The Herald-News hired two rookie reporters, who also would become newspaper legends in Joliet just like Lux. They were Madeline Wellnitz Hildebrand and Lea Borkon Kerr.

   Both of these women reporters would write thousands of news stories during their half-century careers that ended with retirement during the 1990s.

   Other reporters, photographers and editors who served The Herald-News through the 1960s and on include: Allen Conn, Jack Crittenden, Rey Hertel, Charlie Wanninger, John Harmon, Dorothy Cryder, Bob Laraway, Gil Clark, Betty Wirth, Ann Nahas, Marx Gibson, Patricia Gleason, David Hass, Bob MacDonald, Ray Strappazon, Lonny Cain, John Whiteside, Gene Hemphill, Jim Martinez, Don Hazen, Meg Fletcher and John Patsch.

   In 1974 when needing a larger press, The Herald-News moved into a new home at 300 Caterpillar Drive on the west side of Joliet. The old downtown building, which couldn't handle the size of the new press, was demolished.

   The newspaper was printed daily on the big Goss Press from 1974 to 1992. The last run of this press was on July 2, 1992, when Copley newspapers in Northern Illinois were banded together for publication at the Fox Valley Press in Plainfield.

   In 1989, The Herald-News celebrated its 150th birthday with a Sunday open house that was attended by more than 5,000 readers. They ate birthday cake and toured the building, meeting reporters and editors, executives and advertising representatives.

   The special issue that summer Sunday included a congratulatory letter from President George Bush. He wrote:

   "Nothing is more vital to good government and the well-being of any community than that each and every citizen be well-informed. We look to our newspapers to fulfill this responsibility..."

   In the spring of 1997, The Herald-News, which had always been an afternoon newspaper, became a morning paper. And the hyphen was removed between the Herald and News as a new chapter of newspaper history unfolded.

  

 


  
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