The New York Times is one of America’s, and the world’s, leading newspapers. From its founding in 1851, the publication has grown to be considered as a “newspaper of record” and has a readership spanning the globe. In terms of circulation, the newspaper is ranked third in the United States and eighteenth in the world as of 2019, and it has won the most Pulitzer Prizes out of any publication. 

In our newspaper archive, you can discover The New York Times back issues from the date of your choice. An original newspaper is a fascinating way to explore the past and see what the newspaper was reporting on during a special day to you. 

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history of the new york times

The New York Times front page news on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, reporting on the Twin Towers terrorist attacks (9/11)
Image: Flickr

Founding and Early History

The New York Times history goes as far back as September 18, 1851, when the publication was founded as the New-York Daily Times. Henry Jarvis Raymond, a journalist and politician, and George Jones, a former banker, came together to establish the newspaper which was originally published by Raymond, Jones and Company. The first issue was sold for the equivalent of $0.31 at the time, and the first newspaper stated the publication’s outlook and viewpoint:

“We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good;—and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong;—what is good we desire to preserve and improve;—what is evil, to exterminate, or reform.”

Throughout the 19th century, the publication underwent a few changes, such as attempting to start a Californian (Western) edition of the newspaper, which fell through when the state began to create its own publications. 1857 saw the newspaper change its name to The New-York Times, with the hyphen remaining part of the title until 1896. When the United States went through the Civil War, The New-York Times produced a Sunday edition to offer its readers extra coverage of the war. 

history of the new york times

Henry J. Raymond, co-founder of The New York Times, photographed in 1844
Image: Picryl

The New York City Draft Riots 

The New York City Draft Riots took place in Manhattan between July 13-16, 1863, during the Civil War. Working-class members of the city erupted in discontent against the new laws passed by Congress that would draft men into fighting in the Civil War. These riots are the most racially charged and the largest civil disturbance in an urban community in the history of the United States. During this time, The New York Times was pro-union and anti-slavery. 

In the midst of these riots, The New-York Times suffered when the newspaper’s main office was attacked. On Park Row, which gained the nickname “Newspaper Row” due to many of the city’s newspapers being situated there, the newspaper’s founder Henry Raymond took to the streets to stop rioters with early machine guns, known as Gatling guns. This succeeded in turning the rioters away, who then targeted the office of the New York Tribune, run by an abolitionist publisher. 

history of the new york times

A New York Times newspaper from the Civil War in 1865
Image: Library of Congress – Public Domain Archive

Charles Ransom Miller and the Panic of 1893

Henry Raymond passed away in 1869, leaving George Jones to run the newspaper as publisher. When Jones died in 1891, the newspaper came under the control of the New York Times Publishing Company, after the equivalent of $29 million had been raised by Charles Ransom Miller, an editor, along with other editors in the publication. 

When the Panic of 1893 hit the United States, it caused a four-year long economic depression. The New York Times was deeply affected by the depression financially, with circulation only reaching just short of 9,000 and the newspaper losing around $1,000 a day, putting it in danger. 

Adolph Ochs Takes Over

With the newspaper struggling, Chattanooga Times publisher Adolph Ochs paid $75,000 to have a controlling interest in The New York Times. It was Ochs that coined the newspaper’s slogan, that still appears on the front page today: 

“All The News That’s Fit To Print”

The slogan helped situate the newspaper well against its competitors, namely the New York World and the New York Journal which often reported inaccurate opinions and factual information. As well as creating the slogan, Ochs, as well as editor Carr V. Van Anda, helped the newspaper gain considerable status, becoming an international news source and increasing the Sunday circulation. 

Reporting During the Russo-Japanese War 

The newspaper experienced a new method of reporting when the Russo-Japanese War was taking place in 1904. Along with The Times, The New York Times was able to receive immediate wireless telegraph transmission from one of the war’s naval battles. The boat Haimun provided a report of the Baltic Fleet destruction during the Battle of Port Arthur, which allowed the publications to print their stories before other newspapers received a report. 

history of the new york times

The New York Times Building
Image: Flickr

The New York Times After World War II

Arthur Hays Sulzberger took over the newspaper when his father-in-law, Ochs, passed away in 1935. Sulzberger helped expand the newspaper after the Second World War, along with his successor, his son-in-law Orvil Dryfoos. Throughout the 1940s, the newspaper experienced more changes, with the first crossword appearing in 1942 as well as a fashion section that would be printed from 1946. 

The New York Times even published an international version for 21 years, before joining forces with The Washington Post and the New York Herald Tribune to create the International Herald Tribune in 1967. 

Involvement in Supreme Court Cases

New York Times vs Sullivan, 1964 

The New York Times was involved in a landmark US Supreme Court case, which was a key decision that supported the freedom of the press. 

In the case, a police commissioner in Montgomery, L. B. Sullivan sued the newspaper for defamation in a local county court. This was after The New York Times had printed factual inaccuracies in their advertisement criticizing the Montgomery police. The advertisement referred to the police’s harsh treatment of civil rights protestors, and the advertisement was created by Martin Luther King Jr. supporters. The judge claimed the inaccuracies could be considered defamatory, and gave Sullivan $500,000 in damages. 

However, The New York Times fought against this decision, taking the case to the Supreme Court of Alabama, and then appealed it to the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the verdict of the court in Alabama was in violation of the First Amendment. By ruling so, the decision supported the right for the press to report freely on the civil rights movement and protests in the South. This made the case one of the most important in protecting free speech within the press. 

The Pentagon Papers 

The New York Times were famously given access to the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which contained classified documents from the United States Department of Defense about the United States’ activities and involvement in Vietnam, both politically and militarily. The publication began to publish excerpts of this document to make the public aware, after Daniel Ellsberg, a former United States military analyst, helped share the information.

To find out even more about the Pentagon Papers case, take a look at our blog post here, using genuine The New York Times newspaper content from our archive.

The New York Times Goes Digital

Ever since 1996, The New York Times has been publishing digitally. The newspaper was seeing declining print sales throughout the 2000s due to the rise of the Internet and online news, and began to downsize in many ways. In March 2005, The New York Times had 555 million pageviews and around 146 million visitors reached the site annually and in March 2009, the newspaper became the most visited newspaper site. The website had more than double the number of visits than the next top newspaper website. 

The New York Times became present on smartphones from 2008 when they developed their own app, and today, the majority of their subscribers receive their news digitally rather than by print.

history of the new york times

New York Times front page when President Obama takes the oath, January 21, 2009
Image: Flickr

New York Times Circulation History

Date Circulation

Date Circulation
1896 ~9,000
1934 780,000
2000 1,122,400
2001 1,143,700
2002 1,131,400
2003 1,132,000
2004 1,124,700
2005 1,135,800
2006 1,103,600
2007 1,066,600
2008 1,033,800
2009 959,200
2010 906,100
2011 1,317,100
2012 1,317,100
2013 1,926,800
2014 648,000
2015 603,700
2016 571,500
2017 540,000
2018 487,000
2019 443,000
2020 374,000

Source: Statista

As we can see from the dates above, the NY Times’ circulation by year has been decreasing throughout the 21st century. This follows a trend among other publications, in which the rise in digital consumption of news has led to a purchase decline in print news. The start of the 21st century was quite promising, with figures reaching over a million. However, since 2009, the figures have failed to increase past a million (959,200). This was the start of the steady decline in circulation. 

Despite this decline, The New York Times has obtained 5,496,000 news subscribers in total, with 4,665,000 of these subscribers being digital-only (as of November 2020). This shows that the rise of smartphones and other technology has made the digital consumption of news more attractive. Only 831,000 of the publication’s subscribers receive print copies.

Status as a “National” Newspaper

Is The New York Times a national newspaper? Despite the “New York” aspect to the newspaper’s name, the publication is a national newspaper, since its readership spans the entire United States, and its international version is read all across the world. The New York Times ranks third in the United States in terms of circulation, just behind USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. 

Logo History 

The New York Times logo history goes right back to the newspaper’s initial establishment, with there being little change to the logo across more than one hundred and fifty years. The logo is recognizable when looking at early issues of the newspaper, with the wordmark only being amended slightly. 

The logo had a major change when the newspaper changed its name from New York Daily Times to The New-York Times, then again when the hyphen was removed. In 1914, in “the,” the “h” descender became shortened, then the logo remained the same until 1967 when the arrow in the bowl of the “T” was changed to a diamond. There was considerable backlash to this change in the logo, with readers complaining about the nameplate being removed.  However, the removal saved the company a lot of money in ink and printing.