Chicago American

The Chicago American,[1] an afternoon newspaper published in Chicago, Illinois under various names until 1974, was the last full flowering of the aggressive journalistic tradition depicted in the play and movie The Front Page.


The paper's first edition came out on July 4, 1900 as Hearst's Chicago American. It became the Morning American in 1902 with the appearance of an afternoon edition. The morning and Sunday papers were renamed as the Examiner in 1904. James Keeley bought the Chicago Record-Herald and Chicago Inter-Ocean in 1914, merging them into a single newspaper known as the Herald. William Randolph Hearst purchased the paper from Keeley in 1918.

Chicago Herald-Examiner headline; in reality, the death toll was in excess of 695, not 1,000

Distribution of the Herald Examiner after 1918 was controlled by gangsters. Dion O'Banion, Vincent Drucci, Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran first sold the Tribune. They were then recruited by Moses Annenberg, who offered more money to sell the Examiner, later the Herald-Examiner. This "selling" consisted of pressuring stores and news dealers. In 1939, Annenberg was sentenced to three years in prison for fraud and died behind bars.

Under pressure from his lenders, Hearst consolidated the American and the Herald-Examiner in 1939. It continued as the Chicago Herald-American until 1953 when it became the Chicago American. The American was bought by the Chicago Tribune in 1956, and was renamed as Chicago's American in 1959.

As with many other afternoon dailies, the paper suffered in postwar years from declining circulation figures caused in part by television news and in part by population shifts from city to suburbs. The paper continued as an afternoon broadsheet until 1969 when the Tribune converted the paper to the tabloid-format Chicago Today. Measures to bolster the paper were unsuccessful, and Chicago Today published its final issue on September 13, 1974. The Chicago Tribune inherited many of the Today's writers and staff and became a 24-hour operation.

The American was the product of the merger or acquisition of 14 predecessor newspapers and inherited the tradition and the files of all of them.

As an afternoon paper, the American was dependent on street sales rather than subscriptions, and it was breaking news that brought street sales. The American was noted for its aggressive reporting. Its editors, writers, and photographers went hard after every story. It was not uncommon for them to pretend to be police officers or public officials to get a story, although many of them could simply talk their way into any place.

These techniques were usually used legitimately. Reporters demanded information as if they had a right to it, and would often get it. With its connections to news sources and its bravado, the small staff of the American regularly scooped its larger, more respectable afternoon competition, the Chicago Daily News.

When Frank Lloyd Wright announced plans to build a mile-high building in Chicago, the American stole the drawings and printed them.

The tradition was exemplified by the longtime night city editor of the American, Harry Romanoff, "Romy," who could create news stories almost at will with only a telephone. He ran the city room at night with the help of two rewrite men (including Mike McGovern, noted below), one night photo editor, a sports desk editor (Brent Musburger's first job out of journalism school) and one night copy boy who "cut and pasted AP and UPI wires for Harry's review). Since the afternoon paper was put together the previous evening, the night city editor was the key news editor. Moreover, "Romy" a stout, cigar-chomping, suspendered, order-barking commander of the city desk, enjoyed the fearful but absolute regard of pressmen, the composing room and the entire night staff of the Tribune Tower, which owned and housed the Chicago's American operations in its final decades.

One night floods threatened Southern Illinois, and the American did not have a big story for the front page. Romanoff called fire departments and police stations throughout the region, posing as "Captain Parmenter of the state police" (a nonexistent individual), urging them to take action. One fire department, bemused by the call, asked what they should do. "Ring those fire bells! Call out the people!" Romanoff then turned to his rewrite man to dictate the lead story:

Fire bells rang over southern Illinois as police and fire departments called out the people to warn them of impending floods.

It never did flood, but the American had its banner headline. These headlines were necessary for sales of the early editions. Later in the day, breaking news would generally replace them or reduce their importance. Of course, many stories developed in this way were genuine scoops that would be expanded in later editions.

The American gave the same attention to smaller stories as to large ones. It was usually first with police news. One notable headline:

Mother of 14 kids kills father of 9 in police station

Headquarters for the paper was the Hearst Building, located at 326 West Madison Street in Chicago. In 1961, the offices of Chicago's American were moved adjacent to the Tribune Tower at 435 North Michigan Avenue, where they would remain until the ultimate demise of Chicago Today in 1974.

Notable people

In addition to Romanoff, notable American staff members included:


In the end, TV news brought an end to most afternoon papers, but up until the 1970s, Chicago had a competitive journalistic scene unmatched by most other American cities, five daily newspapers and four wire services in competition, and none were more competitive than Chicago's American.

The American's predecessor and successor newspapers

  1. Morning Record, March 13, 1893 – March 27, 1901 (originally News Record, aka Morning News, aka Chicago Daily News (Morning Edition) beginning July 24, 1881)
  2. Chicago Times, June 1, 1861 – March 4, 1895
  3. Chicago Republican, May 30, 1865 – March 22, 1872
  4. Inter Ocean, March 25, 1872 – May 10, 1914
  5. Chicago Daily Telegraph, March 21, 1878 – May 9, 1881
  6. Morning Herald, May 10, 1893 – March 3, 1895
  7. Times-Herald, March 4, 1895 – March 26, 1901
  8. Chicago American, July 4, 1900 – August 27, 1939
  9. Chicago Record-Herald, March 28, 1901 – May 10, 1914
  10. Chicago Examiner, March 3, 1907 – May 1, 1918
  11. Chicago Record Herald & Interocean, May 11, 1914 – June 1, 1914
  12. Chicago Herald, June 14, 1914 – May 1, 1918
  13. Herald-Examiner, May 2, 1918 – August 26, 1939
  14. Herald American, August 26, 1939 – April 5, 1953
  15. The Chicago American, April 6, 1953 – September 23, 1959
  16. Chicago's New American, Sep 23, 1959 – October 24, 1959 (purchased by Chicago Tribune)
  17. Chicago's American, October 25, 1959 – April 27, 1969
  18. Chicago Today American, April 28, 1969 – May 23, 1970
  19. Chicago Today, May 24, 1970 – September 13, 1974


  1. "1934" Chicago American on March 4, 1935 published a huge article about Holodomor. (English)
  2. Dave Zirin, After Forty-four Years, It's Time Brent Musburger Apologized to John Carlos and Tommie Smith, The Nation, June 4, 2012, Accessed September 10, 2012.
  3. Murray, George The Madhouse on Madison Street (Chicago: Follett, 1965).

External links

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