June 15, 1908
Fifty years ago today the first copy of the first daily paper in Kansas City was issued by Colonel R. T. Van Horn, who had conducted a weekly paper here for three years previously. Colonel Van Horn came to this city first on July 31, 1855, and perfected plans for taking charge on October 1 of that year of the Enterprise, a weekly paper published for an association of Kansas Cityans. The Enterprise had been established October 1, 1854, and Colonel Van Horn took charge of it on the first anniversary of its publication. He soon changed the name to the Kansas City Western Journal of Commerce, and it was under that name that the daily was published. Afterwards Colonel Van Horn dropped the "of Commerce," and for fifty years and more the paper has been known as The Journal.
The story of how Colonel Van Horn cast his fortunes with the struggling little hamlet and entered upon the long and distinguished career in which he has filled many offices of trust and honor, has been often told, but it is a story that bears frequent telling. Colonel Van Horn was a young man of 30 years when he was the victim of a fire which destroyed his printing plant in Pomery, O., and he spent the next few months assisting his brother-in-law, Captain Cooley, in his various steamboat enterprises. In the course of his trips he found himself and St. Louis and a guest of the Virginia hotel. Here occurred an accidental, but for Kansas City a very fortunate, meeting between the colonel and Judge William A. Strong, one of the principal editors of the Weekly Enterprise, who had been commissioned to go to St. Louis and find somebody who was able and willing to take charge of the paper.
It is possible that all this combination of circumstances might have occurred without Colonel Van Horn coming to Kansas City had not Judge Strong been the recipient of the colonel's kindly consideration and care on the occasion of Judge Strong's illness. This threw the two together and developed an intimacy which resulted in Judge Strong proposing to the colonel to come to Kansas City and look the situation over. Colonel Van Horn had been a practical printer and an editor for a number of years and was ripe for just such a proposition, but his knowledge of Kansas City was not quite so extensive as it is to-day.
Arriving here July 31, 1855, Colonel Van Horn consulted with the proprietors of the Enterprise, and departed with the understanding that he would return October 1 of that year with $250 in cash, give his note for the other $250 due in one year and take the paper. Many people made fun of Mr. Jesse Riddelbarger, who represented the owners of the paper, for taking the unsupported word of an utter stranger, but those were the "good old days," when a man's word was as good as his bond. Then, too, the man was Colonel Van Horn and Mr. Riddelbarger and his associates were not in nearly so much danger of missing a sale as perhaps they themselves believed down in their hearts.
At any rate, Colonel Van Horn arrived on the boat that reached here October 1 and somewhat astonished even Mr. Riddelbarger himself by walking into his store and calmly announcing that he had come to take charge of the paper, producing the $250 in money and the note for $250. The colonel was very warmly greeted and without much ceremony was introduced to the very limited staff of the Enterprise as "the new boss." In those days the paper had only about 300 or 400 subscribers and a single ream of the paper lasted for nearly two issues. A supply of paper sufficient for a month was the biggest financial transaction of the year. Kansas City had less than 500 inhabitants and Missouri avenue was the southern boundary of the "city." The town was only a "string" along the river bank and was rather contemptuously alluded to as "Westport Landing" by its malicious rivals. Colonel Van Horn denies on the best of authority the statement that Kansas City was ever seriously known as "Westport Landing" or that the people themselves ever accepted that name. Westport was considerable of a town, as were Independence, Leavenworth and other river towns.
For nearly two years and a half Colonel Van Horn ran the Enterprise as a weekly, under its original name, and its later name of The Western Journal of Commerce. The latter name was given to it largely for the reason that there wasn't much commerce here in those days and the name crystallized the purpose of the paper to build up the city along industrial lines, as well as all others. The paper had a number of homes during the first fifteen or twenty years of its existence, following the growth of the city and always keeping on the "firing line." The advent of the first daily paper was a very important event in the history of the little city, but even this event, important as it was, was overshadowed by the other achievements of Colonel Van Horn in giving the city its first and invincible "start" over its rivals. Nature probably did most of all, but Colonel Van Horn had the foresight and the ability to take Nature's "tip" and to make prophesies realities, in all of which the struggling little papers out of which has grown The Journal of today, for nearly half a century under the absolute control of Colonel Van Horn, had their full share of work and glory.