A lot has changed over the past 180 years. But the purpose and priorities of this newspaper have stayed remarkably consistent.
When the Wisconsin State Journal began as the weekly Madison Express on Dec. 2, 1839, publisher William W. Wyman heralded the paper’s noble goals, which endure today.
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“The columns of the Express will be open to the discussion of all fair and proper subjects which will have the tendency of promoting the public good,” he wrote on the front page of the first edition. “We shall expose tyranny wherever it may exist, fearless of consequences, and shall also endeavor to expose any infringement, which may be made, by men in power, upon the rights of the people.”
Not too many people picked up that first copy of the paper. Only a couple hundred settlers lived in what today is Dane County. But the capital of the territory that would soon become the state of Wisconsin already had a newspaper to inform the public, encourage prosperity, demand good government and document the truth, regardless of fickle politics.
“As party lines are not yet drawn in this Territory,” Wyman wrote, “and having no inclination to hasten on that period, we shall let party politics alone for the present, but lay before our readers such information on both sides as will be interesting, reserving to ourselves the privilege of approving or condemning, as we may think proper, the measures that may be put forth by either Whig or Democrat.”
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The newspaper quickly extended the privilege of weighing in on issues of the day to its readers, a tradition we continue today by publishing thousands of letters to the editor. And subscribers — now we call them members, in print and online — have faithfully kept our independent journalism going strong.
“The importance of a well conducted public journal is justly appreciated by all who feel an interest in the welfare and prosperity of their country, and will receive their individual support,” Wyman wrote.
This Madison Express editorial ran on Dec. 7, 1839. The weekly Madison Express became the daily Wisconsin State Journal in 1852:
The Express became the daily Wisconsin State Journal in 1852, rallying support for the first hospital, schools, parks and railroad line in the city and across the region. That first editorial 180 years ago this week lamented the territory’s neglect of education.
“Nothing does so much toward making a nation prosperous and happy as education,” Wyman wrote. “It is the mainspring of all free and independent governments. We shall, at all times, be found ready and willing to lend our aid in this all-important cause.”
The Express invited “the industrious farmer and mechanic of our soil” to join in making Wisconsin “one of the most flourishing sections of the country in the world.”
What's the secret to our longevity? Truth-seeking, in things big and small, is what keeps us young, and what keeps us going.
Today our city and state are thriving. And our journalism at the State Journal — still solidly in print while expanding rapidly in the digital world — continues to shine a bright light on Wisconsin, its government, challenges and successes. Thank you to our readers for making this all possible. Please join in celebrating the State Journal’s 180th birthday this week by renewing or starting your membership at www.madison.com/members.