Today in 1800, the farm boy turned inventor, philanthropist, publishing magnate and founder of the nation’s first mass communications network Moses Yale Beach was born in Wallingford. Beach’s entrepreneurial life and achievements exemplified the imaginative, “go
ahead spirit” that propelled America’s astonishing early nineteenth century growth. Apprenticed as a boy to a Hartford cabinetmaker by his Yankee farmer father, Beach’s hard work and thrift enabled him to buy out his apprenticeship three years early, at the age of 18.
Inspired by the Connecticut River Valley’s culture of innovation, he turned his hand to invention. He experimented with engines powered by gunpowder; designed a rag cutter for paper mills, and even developed a plan to introduce steam-powered transportation to the Connecticut River. His most important innovations, however, came after 1834, when he joined his brother-in-law Benjamin Day in helping publish a new newspaper concept in New York City called The Sun. The Sun was the first of the “penny papers,” so-called because they cost just a penny per issue rather than the 6 cents charged by most newspapers. Unlike the 6 cents papers, which were sold on a subscription basis to upper class purchasers, The Sun was sold on a per issue basis, by street vendors, to middle class readers whose taste in news somewhat differed from that of the upper classes. Crime reporting and other sensational stories joined more traditional news fare, and The Sun quickly became the most popular paper in the world, with 30,000 readers.
A year after joining The Sun, Beach purchased partial ownership of the paper for $5200 dollars. Three years later, he bought out his brother-in-law for $40,000 dollars, becoming the sole owner. Beach’s publishing innovations had set him on a path to becoming one of the country’s wealthiest men.
Because The Sun was not sold on subscription basis, continued sales to the same customers depended on a steady flow of new information. Aware that timely news was most valuable, Beach pioneered in innovating methods of rapid communication. His greatest innovationcame during the 1846-1848 war between Mexico and the United States.
The outbreak of the Mexican War coincided with the expansion of the recently invented telegraph along the east coast. To meet Americans’ insatiable demand for news from the war front, Beach put together a delivery system to speed war news from the Mexican port of Vera Cruz to the nearest telegraph office in Richmond using boats, “pony express” riders, and mail coaches, a system that provided a 24-hour news edge over the standard mail system. More important was the fact that Beach offered an equal share in this news-gathering venture to rival New York City newspapers. Four of them, The Courier and Enquirer The Journal of Commerce, The Express, and The Herald joined him. The Associated Press was born.
By the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), the Associated Press had grown into the country’s first true mass communications network, centered on the distribution of “get it first, but get it right” reporting to editors across the nation using the nearly instantaneous transmission capabilities of the telegraph. Moses Beach, the founder and creator of the AP, had by then retired to Wallingford where he and his wife Julia Day Beach (sister of The Sun’s founder) resided in a Henry Austin designed home that was recognized as the most luxurious residence ever built in that Connecticut town. Beach died in Wallingford on July 18, 1868, leaving a legacy that has remained vital to the news industry up to today.
Valerie S. Komor,”How the Mexican-American War Gave Birth to a News-Gathering Institution,” Zócalo Public Square
“Moses Yale Beach – His Time and Ours,” WPAA-TV
“ The Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of the City of New York,” The Sun (1846)
“The Girl in the Portrait –– Emma Beach and Mark Twain,” mansion musings.wordpress.com