October 29, 1904

artist unknown


Journalists/Journalism; Presidential Administration, Theodore Roosevelt; Presidential Election 1904; Technology, Telephone;

Parker, Alton B.; Roosevelt, Theodore; McKelway, St. Clair;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption.

This cartoon reveals the political importance and independence of the Brooklyn Eagle at the turn of the twentieth century.  The Eagle building (top-center) is depicted as the local office of the U.S. Weather Bureau, which the two presidential candidates in 1904 contact for predictions on the upcoming election.  Telephoning from their respective country estates, Republican Theodore Roosevelt (left) and Democrat Alton B. Parker (right), seek the political forecast from the Brooklyn Eagle editor, St. Clair McKelway (center), who speaks with both simultaneously from the “Eagle Counting Room.”

The Brooklyn Eagle was founded as a Democratic Party organ in 1841, and was edited by Walt Whitman in 1846-1848.  At the onset of the Civil War in April 1861, it had the highest circulation of any afternoon newspaper in the nation.  By that August, denunciation of the Union war effort landed the Eagle and other New York metropolitan publications before a grand jury on charges of disloyalty.  Although not indicted, the postal service refused to distribute the papers, but reversed its decision in the case of the Brooklyn Eagle after editor Henry McCloskey resigned the next day. 

The new editor, Thomas Kinsella, steered a more cautious course, but continued criticizing the Lincoln administration.  After the war, the Eagle promoted construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (opened in 1883), and Kinsella eventually broke with the city’s Democratic machine, calling for the ouster of Boss Hugh McLaughlin and endorsing Seth Low, a Republican reformer, for mayor in 1881.

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, the Brooklyn Eagle reached the height of its influence under editor St. Clair McKelway.  In 1905, Lord Northcliffe, publisher of the London Evening News and the London Daily Mail, remarked that the Brooklyn Eagle was “the only non-metropolitan newspaper--and I use the phrase to distinguish it from the Manhattan dailies--that is known in England and France.”

McKelway was born in Columbia, Missouri, and in 1853 moved to Trenton, New Jersey, where he was educated by his grandfather.  Young McKelway attended New Jersey State Normal School, and then studied law, passing the bar in 1866.  In the late 1860s, he was a reporter for the Trenton True American, the Trenton Monitor, the New York Tribune, the New York World, and the Brooklyn Eagle, serving as the Washington correspondent for the latter two publications.  Thereafter, he rose to the position of editorial writer for the Brooklyn Eagle (1870-1878) and the Albany Argus (1878-1884). 

In 1884, the Brooklyn Eagle hired McKelway as its editor-in-chief, and he resumed writing the paper’s editorials.  He was characterized as “a field marshal of the pen,” who adhered to the “strategy which deals the mightiest possible frontal blows at the chosen point of attack.”  The opinionated McKelway also became a favorite after-dinner speaker.  He instilled a more business-like atmosphere at the publication and, as the featured cartoon attests, introduced modern technology by encouraging telephone interviews and fact checking and by giving each reporter a typewriter. 

Like editor Kinsella before him, McKelway's political principles were that of an independent-minded Democrat, supporting the policies of President Grover Cleveland, but rallying the public against the corrupt Coney Island kingpin, John McKane.  In an 1889 editorial, McKelway stated his belief that “The newspaper should rise from the role of holding a brief for or against either party to the more judicial function of sitting in judgment on both or on all parties.” 

During the 1890s, the Eagle stood firmly, though unsuccessfully, against Brooklyn’s absorption into Greater New York (achieved in 1897).  It was not against consolidation per se, however, since the paper envisioned an expanding Brooklyn annexing communities eastward into Long Island.  Until his death in 1915, McKelway made sure that the Brooklyn Eagle promoted civic pride in Brooklyn and maintained a large degree of political independence.  It ceased publication with the issue of January 28, 1955.

Robert C. Kennedy

July 14, 2024

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