1854 - 1967

The San Jose Mercury News Collection at History San José

History San José

Celebrating the history of one of San Jose's oldest continuously published daily newspapers

The Mercury News at History San José
The Mercury News is one of California’s oldest continuously published daily newspaper, as well as Santa Clara County’s oldest operating commercial business, beginning its life as the San Jose Weekly Visitor in 1851. When State lawmakers abandoned San Jose for Vallejo as California’s capital in 1851, its two pioneer papers in San Jose -- the Argus and the State Journal -- went broke. Led by John C. Emerson, three businessmen bought their equipment and opened the San Jose Weekly Visitor. Ten years later, it became the Mercury, named for the nearby New Almaden mercury mines, and the messenger of Roman mythology. After several locations in downtown San Jose, the paper moved in 1967 to 750 Ridder Park Drive, just off the Nimitz Freeway, where it remained until the paper’s owner sold the property to Super Micro Computer, Inc. The 300 editorial, advertising and administration employees have once again returned to downtown, while the printing and production of 10 daily newspapers are now mostly done in Concord and Hayward. Over the years, many Mercury News journalists have donated their personal and professional papers to History San José, and the museum received a collection of papers and artifacts during the move from 750 Ritter Park Drive. This exhibit celebrates the history of the newspaper through History San José's Collection.

In 1853, Francis B. Murdoch bought out partner John C. Emerson to take over the Santa Clara Register; he renamed it the San Jose Telegraph. It operated above a saloon between First and Market Street.

Murdoch bought out the publishing rights from his partner John C. Emerson to the Santa Clara Register in 1853 and renamed it the San Jose Telegraph, an early precursor to today's San Jose Mercury News. The paper was purchased from Murdoch in 1860 by William Neal Slocum, but Murdoch then started a rival paper called the San Jose City Item in 1863.

James J. Owen, a former printer from New York, bought the San Jose Mercury from William Neal Slocum in 1861. He sold it to attorney Charles M. Shortridge in 1884. Under Owen's management, the Mercury became a daily paper, printed on a $2,000 steam-powered press at a plant on First Street.

Attorney Chalres M. Shortridge purchased the San Jose Mercury from James J. Owen in 1884, and renamed it the Times-Mercury.

Newspaper building at 65 South Market Street, housing the Morning Times, Daily Times and Evening Herald.

San Jose's Electric Light Tower under construction at Santa Clara Street looking north on Market Street. The two-story building in the lower left corner of the picture housed the San Jose News from 1889-1897. Editor James J. Owen led the efforts to build the 237-foot tower as a beacon to progress.

Receipt issued to Mr. French for subscription to the San Jose Daily Mercury, issued by N. Harris, City Agent, Mercury Building, 210 Santa Clara Street.

The San Jose City Item, predecessor to the San Jose News, was started in 1863 by Francis B. Murdoch as a rival paper to the San Jose Mercury.

Program and menu for the second annual banquet of employees of Mercury and Herald, held on December 31, 1903, at Lamolle House, San Jose.

In 1900 brothers Jay Orley "Black" Hayes and Everis Anson "Red" Hayes bought the Evening Herald, followed by the Mercury in 1901. The Hayes family controlled the paper for the next half-century. In 1932 the brothers established a family corporation, and their sons became co-publishers. Seen here at a banquet during the early days of the Mercury are Clara L. Hayes and J. O. Hayes seated, 8th & 9th from left; E. A. Hayes standing,14th from left at head table.

View of West Santa Clara Street looking towards First Street. The Bank of San Jose is in the background, and a "Mercury" bike stand can be seen in the right foreground, at 30 West Santa Clara Street, headquarters of the Mercury and Herald newspapers. From an album of snapshots by Clifford J. Owen.

Mercury Herald building at 30 West Santa Clara Street, San Jose.

Elystus L. Hayes in front of the Morning Mercury and Evening News Building.

Cartoon sketch of Mercury Herald publisher Elystus Hayes, likely created at the 1951 California Newspaper Publishers Association Convention.

L.C Smith Model 8-11 Typewriter used by Mercury News city editor Ben Hitt during his tenure from the 1940s-1960s.

Portrait of Joseph B. Ridder, publisher and president of The San Jose Mercury News.

Three men on top of the Mercury and News tower looking down on First Street, San Jose.

For four months in 1959, the Mercury and News ceased publication when the unions staged a strike and produced their own newspaper, the San Jose Reporter, until new contracts were negotiated.

From a series of blueprints for the San Jose Mercury News newspaper plant at 750 Ridder Park Drive. The building was designed by local architect Warren Heid and dedicated in 1967, and reflected the growing trend in San Jose for Modernist style.

Sign that was originally installed outside the San Jose Mercury News headquarters at 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose. The sign is now housed at History San José's Collection Center.

This chrome-enhanced linotype was on display in the Mercury News lobby at 750 Ridder Park Drive in North San Jose until the paper moved in 2014. The San Jose Daily News brought the first linotype machines to San Jose in 1898, replacing hand-set type with machines that pour molten lead into letter molds. The linotype was replaced in 1975 by computer-generated "cold type," which is photographically transferred to printing plates.

This is the last rotary press printing plate for the San Jose Mercury, created for the front page, Monday morning, June 30, 1975, featuring headline "Bizarre Death Pact at Sea."

Leigh Weimers retired November 11, 2005, as dean of Bay Area newspaper columnists, concluding a 47-year career with the San Jose Mercury News.

Dress adorned with Leigh Weimers' Mercury News columns, created by San Jose Fairmont Hotel Public Relations Director Lina Broydo, for an event honoring Weimers.

Mercury News returns to downtown San Jose
In September 2014, publisher Sharon Ryan announced that executive, news, business, and advertising offices would move to the 7th and 8th floors of 4 North Second Street, a few blocks from the 211 W. Santa Clara building the newspapers had left in 1967. The return of the Mercury News downtown was praised by city officials, many of whom had worked hard to bring it back. The return has also been generally well received by Mercury staff and former editors. “While I already work out of a downtown bureau at San Jose City Hall, I have to cheer the move,” commented columnist Scott Herhold in June 2014. “As a veteran who savors the serendipity of my craft -- the benefit of bumping into a source -- I know it will help newsgathering.” “I will miss the smell of the ink, the miracle we used to perform every day,” commented Joe Boessenecker, senior vice-president for operations and production. “It’s still a miracle, but we perform it more remotely.” As the Mercury News, like other American newspapers, finds it way during a period of great cultural and technological change, Boessenecker remains confident. “I think it’s going to find its own place.” Read more about the history of the Mercury News at 750 Ridder Park Drive and how it changed along with San Jose at www.mercurynewshistory.org.
Celebrating the history of San Jose's oldest continuously published daily newspaper
Credits: Story

Curator: Catherine Mills, Curator of Library & Archives (History San José)

Thanks to:
James Reed, Curator Emeritus (History San José)
Leigh Poitinger, News Research Director (Bay Area News Group/The Mercury News and East Bay Times)

Sponsored by:
Super Micro Computer, Inc.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.