The Sangamo Monitor, published from 1873 until 1898, for a time sold more copies than either the Illinois State Journal or Illinois State Register. Most of the credit goes to Thomas Winfield Scott Kidd (1828-1904), the Monitor’s popular, freewheeling publisher.
Kidd – inevitably nicknamed “Capt. Kidd,” although he had no military experience – was a Delaware native who arrived in Springfield in 1856 after careers as a printer, blacksmith, machinist and agricultural products salesman. In central Illinois, he almost immediately became a political success, winning election as Sangamon County coroner in 1857.
At various points, Kidd also was elected Springfield collector and held appointive positions as deputy sheriff, city assessor and federal court crier, among others. Although Kidd was a Democrat, his political and court activities brought him into contact with Abraham Lincoln. Kidd said later he visited Lincoln in Washington in 1864 and, while the presidency had “added a few more wrinkles to his face,” there was “no change in the warmth of his grasp; none in his regard for his friend, the Crier.”
The Monitor began as a weekly publication on May 1, 1873. Kidd wrote then that the newspaper would be independent – “Democratic (not in a partisan sense)” – and anti-monopolist. He metaphorically compared his plans for the paper to the Union’s famous Civil War gunboat of the same name:
In a word, the Monitor will be just what its name indicates, watching the acts and doings of the world at large, and reporting the same with impartial truthfulness to the readers every week; the iron-clad and double-turreted coaster, watching our National and State prosperity; ready with shot and shell to do battle for “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
The Monitor switched to daily publication on June 28, 1877. The daily’s opening editorial was headlined, in characteristic fashion:
Shake – Fathers, Give Us a Grip – Sons, Pass Us Your Paw – Mothers, Accept Our Most Profound Bow – Sisters, We Embrace You … Bless and Believe Us, for We Mean Business.
Andy Van Meter briefly discussed the upstart Monitor’s challenge to the Journal and Register in his sesquicentennial history of The State Journal-Register, Always My Friend (1981), although Van Meter didn’t think much of Kidd.
T.W.S. Kidd’s Sangamo Monitor offered, for the first time ever, serious and sustained competition for Springfield’s two long-lasting newspapers. Thomas Winfield Scott Kidd was a Democratic party hack with a reputation for friendliness and a florid writing style. His paper maintained a political independence that leaned toward the Democratic Party, an apparently successful formula since the Monitor managed to stay more or less in business from 1873 to 1898 and to publish for most of those years as a morning daily.
When a depression hit the country in 1878-79, however, it was the Monitor that helped bail out the failing Journal. The Journal struggled for months, underwent several reorganizations, and even failed to publish for nearly two weeks in June 1878, Van Meter wrote.
Kidd wrote about the Monitor’s role in keeping the Journal alive in a letter discovered in Journal files and publicized in in the Journal’s Centennial Edition in 1931.
“We were struggling along ourselves, with our sock full of type and dyspeptic old press,” Kidd’s letter said.
On his way home one night, Kidd wrote, he met Journal printing foreman Will Bloomer. “Trailing behind him … were the paper’s employees, each one carrying a galley of something belonging to The Journal’s makeup.
“Say, Cap, can’t you take us in?” asked Will. … “If you can help us hold on until Mr. Selby (Journal editor Paul Selby – ed.) can organize, Governor Cullom has promised to see the printers paid. Cap, it will be a doggone shame if we lose our wages after working as we have.”
“Why, Will,” we answered, “both The Register and The Journal have said that I could not run one newspaper. How am I to run two?” …
The boys came to The Monitor office. I furnished them tables and desks for Mr. Selby, and “Roddy” Irwin, the city editor. With but little change, the same matter went into both papers for a week, or perhaps more. In the meantime, Mr. Selby had organized the new company to publish The Journal and it looked as if everything was lovely for the future.”
Kidd had to intervene one more time before the crisis was passed. In that emergency, the Monitor gave the Journal duplicate stories from an entire edition to keep the Journal’s printers from walking off the job.
Afterwards, (Selby) told me that the paper came nearer being wrecked that night than it had been before. But the men got the proofs and the paper was issued. It was much like The Monitor – which did not hurt it with the subscribers – and it has sailed on successfully ever since.
There was no rescue for the Monitor itself in 1898. Kidd’s wife, Charlotta, died Aug. 1, 1898. That may have disheartened even the ebullient Capt. Kidd, and the Morning Monitor failed to publish on Sept. 20. Both the Journal and Register noted the event. The Register said:
The Monitor was at one time the leading democratic paper of Springfield, and had the largest circulation of any of the local dailies. With but little capital and encouragement Capt. Kidd published the first issue of his paper about thirty-five years ago. It was then a weekly, but thirteen years later he enlarged the plant and the Sangamo Monitor became the Morning Monitor, a daily publication. Its publisher persevered and with success, but in recent years adverse fortune and hard times overtook him.
“(T)he unyielding rules of business made it impossible to maintain a third morning paper in a field in which but two were needed,” the Journal added.
Kidd’s parents both died within about a year of his death – he was raised largely by an aunt – and by the time he died in 1904, all six of his children, along with Charlotta, also were dead. The Journal referred to his misfortunes in an obituary editorial.
A troubled life was his, with much of the bitter and little of the sweet, either in youth or old age, but at all times he was more mindful of others than of himself, and to his closing days his thoughts were directed to those less fortunate than himself. Possibly the great losses he had suffered had made his heart responsive to the misfortunes of others. …
His was the life of a man.
More information: A biography of Kidd and the Monitor up to 1881 is available in History of Sangamon County, Illinois (1881). Library archives contain few copies of either the Sangamo or Morning Monitor (the name changed in 1880). The largest number, about 40 individual editions, is on microfilm at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. (This note has been edited, thanks to followups by Illinois State Historian Sam Wheeler and commenter Larry Senalik.)
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