Category Archives: Chronicling America

Happy Leap Year!


The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) February 29, 1908, Page 2, Image 2,

To some, 2012 is just another year, and February 29th is just another day. But then there are those of us, writer included, who find rare excitement in the 366th day that exists only once every four years in the Gregorian calendar. Well, that is, once every four years unless the year is evenly divisible by 100 and also not evenly divisible by 400…Confusing? This clip from The Daily morning Astorian helps to explain:


The Daily morning Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) February 28, 1884, Image 2,

Leap Years spice up the monotony of the common 365 day calendar, providing reasons for celebration and defiance of social norms, at least during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as covered by America’s historic newspapers. Dances and balls were often held in support of the tradition of Leap Year proposals, where women would propose marriage to the mate of their choice (discussed in one of our previous blogs: “Searching for Love in All the Right Pages”), and parties were thrown to celebrate the rare day. Leap Year proposals actually date back to the 17th century, and Leap Year newspaper feature writers still speculate about the tradition today.


The Madras pioneer. (Madras, Crook County, Or.) December 21, 1911, Image 1,


The Paducah evening sun. (Paducah, Ky.) February 29, 1908, Page 2, Image 2,

Apparently, if a man were to refuse a woman’s marriage proposal on Leap Year day, he would be obligated to give the woman a silk gown and a kiss…but only if she was wearing a red petticoat when she popped the question. Of course, red petticoats, silk gowns, and strict gender roles are now antiquated notions, generally speaking. In today’s society, women can propose marriage, if they wish, on any day of any year, and women around the world now exercise freedoms that were once reserved for men only. For example, starting on February 29thof this year, the 19th annual Algarve Cup international women’s football tournament will be held in southern Portugal. The United States women’s national soccer team will be in attendance, among teams from several other countries. Also, modern women across the United States are free to vote in all political elections, and in fact, Oregon women have been eligible to vote since 1912, making 2012 the Oregon women’s suffrage centennial.  The political cartoon below illustrates an interesting relationship between leap year, traditions, and votes for women as perceived in 1920:


The Evening herald. (Klamath Falls, Or.) January 13, 1920, Image 1,

Businesses have historically used Leap Year hype for advertising purposes, and consumers were free to celebrate the many sales that were held on Feb. 29thas well. While several businesses continue to offer deals on Leap Year day, it’s doubtful that we will ever see a 29 cent sale in the 21st century.

Los Angeles herald. (Los Angeles, Calif.) February 29, 1908, Page 12, Image 12,

While social traditions and market prices provide interesting food for thought this leap year, it is impossible to overlook the most curious implication of Leap Year day, which applies to all of the people born on Feb. 29th!  What is it like to technically only have a birthday every four years, if that?

Bandon recorder. (Bandon, Or.) March 07, 1901, Image 3,

Surely  you could celebrate on Feb. 28th or March 1st, but would it be the same? The limited occurrence of February 29th must make Leap Year birthdays all the more special…


St. Paul daily globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) February 29, 1896, Image 1,

While “Leaplings” or “Leapers” – as people born on Feb. 29th are often called – do not have a precise birth date anniversary every year, they do have the privilege of being the only people who can join the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.


The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.) February 29, 1904, Image 1,

One thing is certain: babies born on February 29, 1916 in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania, gained an advantage over the rest of us thanks to their rare birth date:


The day book. (Chicago, Ill.) February 29, 1916, LAST EDITION, Image 25,

As the world continues to leap and bound into the future, remember that 100 years ago on Feb. 29th, people across the nation were celebrating the special day.

The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) February 29, 1912, Page 9, Image 9,

What will people be saying about Leap Year 100 years from now? Will they be looking back at our current newspapers to find interesting Leap Year clips? Perhaps we should start some new Leap Year traditions this year to give them something more to think about? Until then, happy birthday to all of the Leaplings out there, and have a happy and safe Leap Year!


Also, in the spirit and honor of Black History Month, don’t forget that content from the Portland New Age, Oregon’s first African American newspaper, from 1896-1907, is available for searching and browsing online through Historic Oregon Newspapers, and offers a unique perspective on the history of African American culture in Oregon. A brief essay on the history of the New Age can be found here: .

Search and browse through historic African American newspapers from all states here: .


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The case of the fallen mummy

Like the ghosts and jack-o-lanterns we see everywhere this time of year, mummies have become an icon of Halloween.  Although mummies make their appearance alongside the werewolves, vampires, zombies, and Frankensteins in all of the Scooby-doo cartoons, they are rarely the members of the monster community that captivate the imaginations of the modern viewer.  Mummies are typically depicted as being slow, clumsy, and less-exciting versions of zombies.

Mummies were not always the second-class monsters that we think of today.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century mummies were the monsters that captivated the minds of authors, artists, musicians, scholars, fashion designers, and homemakers. The interest in Egypt can be seen in every aspect of American culture: the Washington Monument in DC, Louisa May Alcott’s Lost in a Pyramid, or the Mummy’s Curse, or  in the daily news.  Hundreds of articles can be found in Chronicling America and Historic Oregon Newspapers that provides a little more insight into this misunderstood monster.  In the April 22, 1906 Sunday Oregonian, George Ade described his travels in Egypt, where he encountered a young American student of Egyptology who had some experience with mummy trafficking.

According to Ade’s acquaintance, mummy prices varied greatly depending on the state of preservation, the status of the individual who was mummified, and the quality of decoration on the casket.  A Ramesses or Ptolemy would be sold for upwards of $1,000, while the mummies of more modest grandeur would be sold for $60-$125.  Ade’s friend offered to sell him a mummy who was “probably a tourist,” for the bargain price of $7.50.

If you wanted to see a mummy, but lacked the  funds to travel all the way to Egypt, you could visit the Lewis and Clark 1905 Exposition in Portland, Oregon.  There were several mummies on display at the World’s Fair, but it was the “Rockafeller mummy” that seemed to attract the crowds for its uncanny resemblance to the famous oil magnate, John D. Rockafeller.

If the thought of having a real mummy in your living room was a bit too gruesome, there were other ways to bring the fashionable mummy craze into your home.  Several newspapers, including the Saint Paul Globe, ran articles on the scarcity of mummies and the effect on the art world.

Mummies were popping up everywhere and rather than making people jump and exclaim “Jinkies!” they were regarded as a sign of sophistication.  Literature and operas written in Europe and the United States increased the popularity and fascination of the mummy.  Richard Carle and Robert Hood Bower’s 1904 Broadway musical, The Maid and the Mummy, was equally as praised for the music and the acting as it was the costumes.  The mummy was so successful at capturing the imaginations of the general public that its influences could be found in popular fashion.  The November 22, 1908 Washington Times ran this full-page article, which advises ladies not to “tilt a disdainful nose and look offended” if she is referred to as a mummy, but rather “smile with a conscious superiority and accept it as a compliment.”

The demand for mummies was so high that it was difficult for suppliers to fill their orders with the genuine item.  Several articles, like this one from the September 30, 1906 Los Angeles Herald Sunday Supplement, warns of the fraudulent mummies being manufactured and sold to Americans seeking genuine Egyptian antiquities.

Like all celebrities, the mummy fell from stardom and has faded into the collection of monsters roaming the streets on Halloween night in search of treats.  Perhaps it is time for a revival of interest?  Find more exciting Halloween stories in the news at Chronicling America!

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The History of Peanut Butter in the U.S.

The Madison journal. (Tallulah, Madison Parish, La.) January 15, 1921

The origins of certain food items usually make for good conversation. Potato chips were invented in 1853 when a customer complained that his french fries were too thick.  Ketchup is a derivative of a Chinese fish sauce.  Sliced bread became commercially packaged around 1928.

Peanut butter is one of those foods that seems like it has always been around and well-loved by Americans.  Surprisingly enough, not only did peanut butter not become popular until the late 1800s, but even when it did make a widespread appearance, people didn’t necessarily go nutty over the condiment.  It was a tough market to crack and things didn’t always go smoothly for peanut butter marketers.  It took a few years for consumers to come out of their shells and incorporate peanut butter into their daily grind. … Okay, the puns will be finished… in a Jiffy.

Chronicling America affords us with incredible resources to investigate the first commercial appearances of peanut butter.  We can search freely through historic digitized newspapers from across the country to find the very first mentions of this new product.  Of course, advertisements for peanut butter are fascinating in their own respect.  They reflect the economics of the time, the relative value of peanuts and peanut butter depending on national demand and interest.

Corpus Christi caller and daily herald. (Corpus Christi, Tex.) May 15, 1915

Interestingly enough, early peanut butters were used as a protein supplement for vegetarians.  Take, for instance, this early mention from 1898, predicting the rise of peanut butter sales:

The Banner-Democrat. (Lake Providence, East Carroll Parish, La.) April 02, 1898

Or this blurb describing peanut butter as a “butter substitute”:

The evening bulletin. (Maysville, Ky.) December 15, 1897

"Peanut butter is a new article that is expected to crowd the genuine stable. Freedom from dangers which beset animal fat and its wholesomeness are the main points of its excellence." Tombstone epitaph. (Tombstone, Ariz.) October 24, 1897

The general public was skeptic of this new spread at times, as seen in this (somewhat unappetizing) description:

The Wichita daily eagle. (Wichita, Kan.) December 11, 1898

A bit of controversy was sparked when peanut butter hit the market.  This stemmed from the assumption that peanut butter was meant to replace regular dairy butter in all uses and applications. In theory, this could cripple the dairy market.

Lexington gazette. (Lexington, Va.) April 19, 1899

It could be that people were confused by the label “butter” and associated peanut butter with dairy.  For example,

Semi-weekly interior journal. (Stanford, Ky.) May 27, 1898

Eventually, peanut butter gained popularity and became a staple for nearly every kitchen.

The Saint Paul globe. (St. Paul, Minn.) August 19, 1899

And of course, mentions of this new food made their way to Oregon, with one of the first appearing in 1899:

The new age. (Portland, Or.) December 23, 1899


These are just a few examples of articles addressing the creation of peanut butter.  Hundreds of pages exist in Historic American Newspapers for you to search and browse, either on this topic or any other subject that interests you.  I suggest investigating the rise of the peanut and its multitude of new uses at the turn of the century.  You’ll be surprise at what you find. Peanut bread, anyone?  –Sarah E. North  (I’d also like to thank the UO Map/GIS Librarian, Kathy Stroud for the lunchtime conversation that inspired this post.)


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The Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition: Portland’s “World’s Fair”

The Sunday Oregonian, August 27, 1905

World’s Fairs are an unforgettable event in a city’s history, bringing scores of tourists, revenue and prestige for years after the fair.  If you’ve ever seen Meet Me in St. Louis, you’ve experienced Hollywood’s take on the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904.  If you’ve ever wondered what the reality of a fair might look like, you can search many historic U.S. newspapers of the era at for first and second-hand accounts of U.S. World’s Fairs.

In 1905, Portland, Oregon joined the illustrious list of cities that have sponsored a “World’s Fair” event.  Although it was commonly referred to as a World’s Fair, it was not in fact recognized as one by the Bureau of International Expositions.  Instead, it was an exposition dedicated to the centennial year of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. For four and a half months, Portland was host to 1.5 million visitors at the fairgrounds constructed for that purpose along the Willamette River.  You can read about the goals and plans for the fair in this article from the New Year’s Day edition of The Morning Oregonian, “The Great Lewis and Clark Exposition: 1805-1905.”

If you’re curious to know more about Portland’s “World Fair,” you can find a wealth of information in the pages of historic Oregon newspapers at the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program‘s website.  Nearly every aspect of the Exposition was covered by newspapers of the time, including economic, cultural and political perspectives.  I’ve listed a few interesting articles to pique your interest, but the amount of information on this incredible event is astounding, so get in there and do some searching! (For a brief overview of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, you can also visit the Oregon Encyclopedia’s entry on the fair.)

You can also find more images of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in the shared OSU/UO Digital Collections website, like this photo of the States Building, or this colorful postcard of the Agricultural Building.

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The Salmon: Oregon’s Favorite Fish

Salmonid fishes can be found in subarctic waters worldwide. However, for more than a century, “salmon” have been virtually synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. In fact, the Chinook Salmon is the official State Fish of Oregon–drivers may even choose to display this magnificent creature on their bumpers:

Official Oregon DMV Salmon license plate design.

An historical essay published in the Daily Morning Astorian on January 29, 1887 suggests that the salmon might have played a small but important role in Oregon’s ever becoming an America territory. Entitled ‘The Boundary Question. How the Oregon Trouble was Settled and the Country was Saved From War,’ this article relates that a man named Gordon, commander of the English man-of-war America, concurred with John McLaughlin’s assessment that the Columbia River country was ‘not worth a war’ with the United States. Remarkably, the article reports that the commander’s dismissive opinion was based upon his observation, “…being fond of angling, the salmon would not rise to the fly. A country where the fish were not lively enough for his sport was, in his estimation, worthless.”

Chinook people dip-netting salmon at Willamette Falls, 1841. Image from collection of University of Washington Library.

Whatever the quality of sport on offer, at the time of the first Euro-American settlement, the salmon fisheries of the Pacific Northwest seemed literally inexhaustible. Millions of fish averaging thirty pounds and more made the annual spawning run up Oregon’s numerous coastal rivers. They were an important food resource for both indigenous peoples and the pioneer settlers. In fact, the fish were so abundant that people often kept only the choicest cuts of meat and threw the rest away! The first commercial harvest of salmon by Euro-American settlers in Oregon occurred in 1823. Many thousands were caught every year thereafter, but for a while it seemed as if all the people in Oregon would never be able to eat enough salmon to put even a small dent in the overall population of fish.

'One Boat's Catch of Coos Bay Chinooks.' From Marshfield Daily Coast Mail, January 7, 1904, p. 12

But then, by the 1860s, new inventions and improvements in food canning technology suddenly made it possible for Oregon businesses to preserve the catch and transport it for sale to markets around the globe. It was at this time that canned ‘Pacific Salmon’ became a popular staple of the American diet, available on grocery shelves almost everywhere.

Can label of White Star Packing Company, Astoria, 1885.

(Image from Oregon Blue Book’s ‘Historical Oregon Trademarks Web Exhibit’)

The Oregon newspaper titles presently available on Chronicling America provide us with a wealth of information about salmon and commercial salmon fishing. Here we can read about the rapid development of the state’s salmon canning industry and its major contributions to the early economic growth of the state–but also the subsequent emergence of a public conservation ethos as Oregonians began to notice, within a decade or two, some of the grimmer consequences of that industry’s success.

Good price on fresh salmon! From Klamath Falls Evening Herald, July 10, 1919, p.2

As a point of entry, try the front page of the Daily Morning Astorian from January 27, 1888, where we find an article headlined ‘STATEMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS. Report of the State Fish Commission.’ This story details initial efforts to regulate the Columbia River salmon fishery, and also discusses other factors then known to pressure salmon populations, such as the widespread disposal of sawdust in rivers, and predation by sea lions.

On April 6, 1904, the Sumpter Miner ran a story, ‘Oregon Owns World’s Big Fish Hatchery.’ The largest hatchery in the world had recently begun operating on the Snake River near Ontario, Oregon. The Miner reports that the hatchery will soon be releasing its first batch of fry: more than 25,000,000 young salmon to be stocked into the Columbia watershed in hopes of maintaining the fishery in the long term.

Page 7 of the April 9, 1911 Medford Mail Tribune offers a piece entitled ‘Uncle Sam Studies Traits of Salmon.’ This is an excellent account of the actual scientific methodology used by the federal Bureau of Fisheries to begin tracking the natural life cycle of Pacific salmon species. Here we find the beginnings of ‘fish tagging.’ Prior to this time in the early 20th century, there was much that had remained mysterious about the annual comings and goings of salmon in Oregon’s ocean and rivers.

Seining salmon from the Columbia River, circa 1914.

(Image from Native American Legal Update)

Interested in learning more? There are many resources online! For example, Oregon State University Libraries offers an informative overview of the seven salmon species native to our state. And on their website, Oregon Public Broadcasting provides a detailed timeline of the History of Fishing in Oregon.  —Jason A. Stone

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Happy 2011!

from Coos Bay Times, 01-01-1914

Throughout Oregon’s history, its citizens have always been inclined to look hopefully toward the future. New Years Day has always been an important holiday in the state, as the historic newspaper record will reveal. A search of Historic Oregon Newspapers or Chronicling America will yield a number of headlines and illustrations commemorating the arrival of a New Year. Below is an example from the December 31, 1922 Astorian that you won’t find on either of the web sites (because it falls outside the scope of dates digitized for this title.)

Note the fuming factory smokestacks in the background of the picture–this is a recurring motif in newspaper illustrations of the day. While we in the 21st Century tend to look at the pall of black smoke and say “Yuck! Pollution!”, in the 19th and early 20th Centuries smokestacks are commonly used to symbolize wealth, industry, modernization, and desirable economic growth. Awareness of the negative impacts of environmental pollution would not begin to enter the broader American consciousness for a few more decades. So this truly would have been the perfect image of a “Happy and Prosperous New Year” for most residents of Astoria in 1922.

Here at the beginning of another New Year we find a convenient opportunity to remind ourselves that the times are always changing.  —Jason A. Stone

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More Titles Now Available!

We are happy to announce that four new historic Oregon newspapers have just been added to Chronicling America. The Ontario Argus, the Salem Capital Journal, the Burns Times-Herald and the Astoria Astorian are now available, bringing the total number of Oregon newspaper pages on the Library of Congress’ web site to 67,863.

Ontario Argus mastheadSalem Capital Journal mastheadBurns Times-Herald mastheadAstoria Astorian masthead

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