By Sarah Rosten
A young, booming Duluth clung to the side of Lake Superior in the second half of the 19th century. Shipping and natural resources propelled the growing economy. Land was just beginning to be picked over by hungry Rockefellers and lumber barons; the spirit of upward mobility was still infectious.
A local paper from 1892 advertised Luther Mendenhall’s wood delivery rate at just $3.25, “sawed, split, and ready for the stove.” A Berquist and Johnston ad offers “Valentines of every kind” next to a timetable for the daily 5-hour train service between Duluth and St. Paul. The “Come and Try It” saloon on Minnesota Point announces a Saturday evening “raffle of turkeys, geese, &c,” while the front page headlines discuss Duluth’s growing street railway, or labor union disputes.
The American Historical Society’s 1921 publication “Duluth and St. Louis County” provides evidence that Duluth had an increasing number of news publications available beginning in the 1860s and 70s. Citizens held subscriptions to local, national, and international magazines and newspapers, hungry for a variety of information.
The majority of Duluth’s citizens were immigrants or first generation Americans in the late 1800s. Homelands and native tongues fueled some papers, as well as social and political beliefs or aspirations. A maturing need for information and mass communication created an innovative and competitive spirit within the budding news industry.
According to the Library of Congress’ newspaper directory, by the 1890’s Duluth was home to over 40 news publications, not including the newspapers that had already gone out of business, been bought out, or merged. Among these 40 newspapers, two were French, one was German, four were Swedish, and at least one was Finnish.
The American Historical Society’s account of Duluth’s early news scene portrays a tumultuous but dynamic industry. Leading editors, reporters, and citizens starred in tales of northern newsroom coups, upstart community papers, and power-hungry owners. In the late 19th century journalism was a means used for a similar, yet very different, end.
Pat Maus, curator of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Society, said newspapers at the turn of the century were very opinionated. According to Maus, there were generally two fundamental papers in a city, one liberal, and one conservative.
In both publications the owner’s ‘voice’ would have been a corrupting influence, penetrating articles and asserting blatant bias. Duluth is no exception. Of the publications available in the 1890s, the weekly News-Tribune and Herald led in circulation and influence.
Since the founding days, Duluth has developed and reinvented itself, but it is impossible to live in the city without considering its past.
An age-warped landscape hints at the changes: turn of the century mansions now lay a few streets below ‘60s ramblers. Industrial areas are replaced by refurbished condos, art galleries and shopping. City streams flow and churn between busy streets, ski jumps stand high above neighborhoods, and majestic mansions have been sectioned into eclectic apartments or cozy, unique bed & breakfasts.
Duluth’s voice has grown; sometimes it is still the opinion of one person, but more often it is a chorus of community.
Yet today, unfortunately more so than ever, we have upheaval and restructuring within local and national news organizations. The bygone days of a few prevailing local newspapers seem gradually replaced by upstart community and niche publications, citizen journalists, and local blogs or websites.
Voix du Lac, or Lake Voice, originally belonged to one of the French newspapers published in Duluth during the 1890s. Although little information is available about the short-lived publication, the Minnesota Historical Society believes it was published in Duluth from 1892 to 1893.
Voix du Lac didn’t last very long the first time around, but the name has been adopted and adapted. Lake Voice is a community driven on-line publication run by a University of Minnesota-Duluth Journalism class. The name represents a historic, cultural, and environmental connection to the North Shore.
Duluth is a city of diverse neighbors, a population eager to expand, explore, and share itself. A city where industry meets nature, a home on a hill filled with diverse, creative, prolific individuals; artists, academics, engineers, blue collar, white collar, green collar: people.
Lake Voice is a contribution to, or, at the very least, a continuation of, Duluth’s journalistic history. As a student run organization, Lake Voice is an opportunity for students to publish original work, but as an organization of people, Lake Voice is a welcome opportunity to get involved in Duluth’s communities; to learn, share and grow with neighbors.
*The train traveling time between Duluth and St. Paul in the 1890s was incorrectly reported in this article. In the 1870s it took 13 hours to travel by train between Duluth and St. Paul, but by the 1890s the trip was shortened to just 5 hours. Lake Voice apologizes for this mistake.