Dana, Charles A. (1819-1897)

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Charles A. Dana (1819-1897)

Newspaper editor


Brook Farm. Born in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, Charles A. Dana grew up in western New York and learned business at an early age clerking at his uncles store in Buffalo. In his spare time he studied Latin and Greek. He entered Harvard in September 1839, but his poor eyesight and tight finances prevented his completion of a degree. In September 1841 he joined the group at Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, a Utopian community established by Rev. George Ripley and other Transccndenta-lists as a testing ground for their ideas about cooperative, democratic living in an environment that encouraged intellectual-growth. Other residents at Brook Farm included the novelists Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott; poet-essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson; literary critic Sarah Margaret Fuller, Marchesa DOssoli; and Unitarian minister William Henry Channing. In 1842 Dana also became acquainted with Horace Greeley, the legendary founder and editor of the New York Tribune, who often visited Brook Farm. Dana remained with the community for five years and taught Greek and German as well as writing articles for its newspapers, the Dial and Harbinger:

Blue Ribbon Apprenticeship. In 1846 Dana worked for a Boston paper before becoming city editor of the New York Tribune early the next year. He then took leave to observe the revolutions in Europe firsthand and rejoined the Tribune in early 1849. Dana was in charge at the Tribune whenever Greeley traveled, but friction between the two developed over style and issues. The final split occurred over Southern secession, with Greeley willing to have the South secede if that meant peace would be maintained, while Dana refused to tolerate the idea of a divided Union. In 1864 Dana sold his considerable interest in the paper and joined the Lincoln administration as second assistant secretary of war.

The Sun. In late 1867 Dana had enough financial backing to purchase the New York Sun for $175,000. Its circulation at the time was only forty-three thousand. Danas creed for the paper was fierce independence, conciseness, and clarity. He kept stories short and limited the paper to four packed pages. Dana set the price of the Sun at two cents a copy in order to compete with the New York World. He also gave the human interest story new form by presenting a chronological narrative rather than a summation of facts. He was willing to print stories about sex and crime, news that other papers avoided. To fulfill his goal of vivid, terse stories, Dana assembled a remarkable staff of writers, including Julian Ralph, David Graham Phillips, Will Irwin, and Samuel Hopkins Adams. The Sun was known as a newspapermans paper and became the classroom for many of the great journalists of the next half-century.

Color. The editorial page of the Sun was the wittiest and most colorful of all the New York papers. Its writers coined such phrases as To the victor belongs the spoils, and No King, No Clown, To rule this Town. It uncovered many scandals in government, and was among the first to devote portions of the paper to womens interests and sports. In 1887 Dana launched an evening edition of the Sun and hired the writers Amos J. Cummings, Arthur Brisbane (sun of Albert Brisbane, a Brook Farm alumnus), Richard Harding Davis, and the outstanding police reporter Jacob Riis. In stark contrast to the slim daily edition, the fat Sunday edition of the Sun full of pictures and stories about cowboys, alligators, sea captains, and the inner workings of machines, plus book reviews and fashion newsset the standard for Sunday editions for the next century.

A Crisp Legacy. In his twenty-nine years as editor of the Sun, Dana provided a bridge from the journalism of the penny press to the New Journalism of Pulitzer and Hearst. Dana died in October 1897 of cirrhosis of the liver. While other papers published lengthy obituaries, at Danas own direction the Sun acknowledged his passing with two brief lines atop its editorial column:

Charles Anderson Dana, Editor of
The Sun, died yesterday afternoon.

At the time of Danas death the Sun had a circulation if 120,000, with the Sunday edition at 150,000.


Sidney Kobre, The Yellow Press and Gilded Age Journalism (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1964);

Janet E. Steele, The Sun Shines for All: Journalism and Ideology in the Life of Charles A. Dana (Syracuse, N.Y,: Syracuse University Press, 1993).