Extra Extra, Read All About Philly

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Extra Extra, Read All About Philly

In the nineteenth-century, Philadelphia’s publishing industry flourished with hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and other forms of print media. Newspapers, in particular, had the most impact on the Philadelphia public. The steam-powered presses that produced the papers allowed for cheaper production, enabling affordable penny-newspapers. Penny papers, like William M. Swain’s Public Ledger (1836) played to working class Philadelphians. These newspapers often featured sensational headlines, local news, and human-interest/entertainment pieces. During Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition, newspapers facilitated frenzy over the Fair’s exhibits, famous guests, and patriotic celebrations. Many local women would save newspaper articles, newspaper images, and ephemera to compile them into a large scrapbook. These scrapbooks serve as a peek into a historical moment and illustrate how the Centennial Exhibition was discussed in 19th century print media.

The advancing printing technologies also enabled the development of a magazine publishing industry. These monthly publications featured colored images, articles, and a high subscription rate. Magazines, unlike nineteenth-century newspapers, sought readership among the middle and upper-classes. These magazines often included poems, fiction, essays, and articles emphasizing an upper-class lifestyle. Many writers contributed to these magazines, both as authors and editors.  In addition to the newspaper print media at the Centennial Exhibition, there was also large amounts of magazines and colored ephemera, like hand-painted images, hand-drawn Exhibition tickets, and photographs. These higher quality newspapers and magazines were geared to those who could afford to visit the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The black and white newspapers may have been read by working-class Americans, who could not afford to enter the Exhibition.

This lesson asks students to compare and analyze magazines and newspapers from eighteenth and nineteenth-century to understand the differences and similarities between newspaper and magazine culture. Then students will compare eighteenth and nineteenth-century print media to twenty-first century media.  When looking at the newspapers and magazines (from the 19th-21st century), students should think critically about the information presented. What can we learn from nineteenth-century print culture? How is it related to twenty-first century print culture? Students will discover what was important to Philadelphians during the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries and compare that with what is important today. Students can reflect on advertising and reporting on a world’s fair in the 19th century versus a 21st century world’s fair. How would media be different? How would it be the same? Examining these primary sources will offer an opportunity to discuss the importance of print culture to nineteenth-century Philadelphians and compare that with current issues surrounding print culture. For example, the recent shift of the Philadelphia Inquirer to a nonprofit organization, in an effort to save the paper. What is the future of print culture in the United States? How should it be available? Paper, online, both?

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


Students will be able to:

  • Better understand Philadelphia in the 18th and 19th centuries from a different angle, through print media (newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, etc.)
  • Build upon their knowledge of print media and determine what was important/popular to 18th and 19th century Philadelphians
  • Understand the value of print media and what it reveals about a certain time and space
  • Compare and analyze a magazine and newspaper from the 19th and 21st centuries, noting how print media has changed/remained the same

Other Materials

Primary Sources from HSP Digital Library

Other Materials:

History of American Newspapers, 1800-1860 (Video)

Philadelphia Inquirer in the News 2016:

Twenty-First Century Philadelphia Newspapers (Online Examples):

Worksheet for Lesson

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Break students into small groups.
  2. Give each group a recent Philadelphia newspaper or magazine page, a page from a eighteenth/nineteenth-century Philadelphia newspaper, and a page from a nineteenth-century magazine.
  3. Before beginning to examine the newspapers, ask the students to define “bias” and “accuracy.” Remind the students that any document can have a bias. Give examples found in every day newspapers and magazines. Explain that this also exists in past centuries.  This video explains bias and accuracy in historical and present media.
  4. Now, have each group study their newspapers and write down similarities and differences on the provided worksheet.
  5. After answering the questions, have each group share some of their thoughts with the rest of the class.
  6. Conclude with a discussion on the importance/unimportance of print media. Do the students think we should continue to print newspapers? What would happen if we no longer had printed newspapers? Can we rely on social media for the news? 


Accuracythe quality or state of being correct or precise

Bias- opinions of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of events and stories that are reported and how they are covered

Print Media- Means of mass communication in the form of printed publications, such as newspapers and magazines and pamphlets