COURIER TURNS 150: Newspaper established on Jan. 18, 1859

This photo was taken outside the Waterloo Evening Courier building in February 1928. A third floor was added to the building in 1958. (Courier File Photo)
WATERLOO — On Christmas Day 1858, partners Will Hartman and George Ingersoll loaded a printing press on a bobsled and embarked on a seven-mile trek through the snowy wilderness from Cedar Falls to Waterloo, then a teeming metropolis of 800 people.

The town was ripe for a new newspaper, Hartman reasoned. “He little realized then the decades of toil, hardship and abject poverty which lie ahead,” reported longtime Courier associate editor David Dentan in a centennial account of the birth of The Courier in 1859. It was published in the Palimpsest, the State Historical Society of Iowa’s monthly publication.

“Seldom, if ever, did a newspaper have more humble beginnings than the Waterloo Courier,” Dentan noted.

Hartman, a native of Allentown, Pa., was just 19 at the time. His family had moved to Ohio when he was 2, and then to a log cabin near Anamosa, where he was apprenticed at age 12 to William Haddock, then publisher of the Anamosa News, the first paper in Jones County. After working at papers in Dubuque and Delhi, he wanted to start his own.

In Delhi, Hartman met Marvin Lott, a teamster who was taking a wagonload of supplies to the new city of Waterloo. Hartman was interested, so he talked his landlord into giving him time to pay his rent and headed to Waterloo with Lott.

Hartman found work as a typesetter, once again working for Haddock at the Iowa State Register, Waterloo’s first paper, established in 1855 at The Courier’s present-day location in the 500 block of Commercial Street.

Hartman soon discovered “a better opportunity in Cedar Falls,” Dentan noted, then a larger community than Waterloo. Hartman and Ingersoll took over operations of the paper there, The Banner, publication of which had been suspended about a year earlier. That paper had been operated by businessmen who were not newspapermen by trade and had other enterprises to tend to. Hartman and his partner found difficulty obtaining supplies, in large part because a Cedar River steam ship in operation at that time, the Black Hawk, could only navigate the river as far north as Waterloo and found negotiating some rapids between Waterloo and Cedar Falls as too risky.

It was time to move to Waterloo, where Hartman’s one-time mentor, Haddock, was having problems. The paper’s Democratic leanings and his one-time pro-Southern advocacy of states’ rights and slavery did not go over well with residents.

This 1912 photo features Waterloo Courier carriers and their supervisors. (Courier File Photos)

“There was increasing desire in Waterloo for a thoroughly Republican newspaper, and some residents so indicated to Hartman and Ingersoll, when the two young editors found it impossible to continue publication in Cedar Falls,” Dentan reported in the Palimpsest.

The first issue of Hartman and Ingersoll’s Blackhawk Courier on Jan. 18, 1859, espoused that it was “Devoted to General News, Agriculture, Science and the Diffusion of Republican Principles.” Eventually the Register folded, and Haddock sold much of his equipment to a new paper in Waverly. Waterloo’s population grew to between 1,000 and 1,200 as the 1860s dawned.

Another new rival, The Cedar Falls Gazette, began to capture a substantial portion of The Courier’s classified advertising revenue. Trying to make up the lost revenue, Hartman established the first paper in Grundy County, The Pioneer, printing material used in The Courier on one side of the broadsheet in Waterloo and the Grundy Center local news and advertising on the other side in Grundy Center.

Hartman also married his Ohio sweetheart, Dorinda Clark, and they provided room and board for the printer’s apprentices working at the paper. The “devils,” as Hartman referred to them, were paid $40 to $50 a year “plus board and washing” their first year and that annual salary increased to $80 to $90 by their third year.

That time was a period of great rivalry between Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Dentan noted. Cedar Falls was the county seat. A group from Waterloo who tried to steal the county record and plat books in the middle of the night, and effectively move the

county seat, were betrayed by an informant and driven off with a barrage of rotten eggs by the Cedar Falls residents.

A similarly spirited rivalry grew up between the Courier and the Cedar Falls Gazette, where the publishers of the respective papers would openly challenge each other on items like the amount of freight handled at each community’s rail depot.

Each paper accused the other of distortions about their community. “That paper finds fault with every enterprise our town undertakes,” Courier editors declared. “The people of Cedar Falls ought by all means to reward the Gazette for telling such contemptible little fibs in favor of their little village.”

The Waterloo Courier pressroom in 1923.

Dentan reported those challenges were designed “to build up civic pride and spur citizens into competitive activity” on projects of common interest to both communities, such as securing railroad repair shops.

With many of its employees leaving to serve in the Civil War, Hartman was hard pressed to keep the paper operating through the laborious printing process. “Despite such difficulties” Dentan noted, Hartman “missed few editions.”

After the war the Gazette owners moved to Sioux City and began publishing what is now the Sioux City Journal.

The last half of the 19th century saw considerable competition between the Courier and a new rival, the Iowa State Reporter, founded by H.Q. Nicholson and later acquired by J.J. Smart and pioneer Waterloo businessman Matt Parrott. Joining the competition was the Cedar Valley Tribune, which later became the Waterloo Morning Tribune.

During this period Will Hartman also was appointed local postmaster by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1873. Hartman was succeeded by John von Lackum, one of the first three mail carriers in Waterloo, who eventually married Hartman’s daughter Genevieve, whose children would own the family stock in the paper for generations. The Courier became a daily permanently in 1890 and the W.H. Hartman Co. was incorporated in 1891 with Will Hartman as president and his son, John Hartman, as secretary-treasurer.

W.H. Hartman died in 1895 and son John took the paper’s reins. During that decade women began to work at the paper. It had editorialized in 1890 that while “responsible young women might teach school or become librarians, there is no telling what sort might come to work in an office.” Despite that chauvinistic stance, six years later Margaret Van Metre became the paper’s first woman reporter and its first society editor. In 1907, two years before the paper’s 50th anniversary, Martha Taylor became the paper’s first advertising saleswoman and office assistant, and worked for the paper 40 years.

The paper’s most famous employee of that or perhaps any time was Sinclair Lewis. Hartman fired him and he went on to become one of the greatest American novelists of all time and the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Lewis, then 23, was fired after a falling out with Hartman. His downfall was his “radical” editorials, biographers wrote. Topics ranged from defending the nude in art, to plans for a national theater in New York.

Although he tried to relate his cosmopolitan ideas to Iowans, it appeared they couldn’t care less.

In this April 1976 photo, workers prepare to move new presses into the Courier building.

Upon winning the Nobel Prize in 1930, Lewis recalled his short-lived Courier stint and his dismissal in an interview, published in the Nov. 8, 1930, Courier.

“I was fired the first month. The editor (Hartman) came to me and said, ‘I’ve got a telegram from your successor.’

“ ‘What?’ “ I said.

“ ‘I’ve got a telegram from your successor. I didn’t want to say anything until I heard from him. But we’ll give you a full week’s pay. We want our boys to leave satisfied.’

“With the $80, minus two or three that I had saved, I was on the train for Chicago on Friday morning,” Lewis said.

Hartman also brought in Arthur W. Peterson, previously associated with the Minneapolis Tribune and Indianapolis News, as general manager, purchasing a minority interest in the paper in 1908.

Waterloo had grown into a major commercial and farm machinery manufacturing center by then, its largest employer being The Rath Packing Co. It had added rail and trolley service and its population grew from 5,500 in 1875 to more than 12,000 by 1900. John Deere purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. in the spring of 1918, and built that enterprise into the world’s largest tractor manufacturing complex.

Arthur W. Peterson died in 1923, and the Courier, under the leadership of his nephew and successor, Jackson McCoy, also stepped up its production in 1926 with a new press capable of printing 37,250 papers an hour. Wilton “Hap” Floberg also was installed as the paper’s first sports editor.

The paper eventually outlasted its competition, purchasing the Reporter in 1914. Competition between the Courier and the surviving rival Waterloo Morning Tribune continued through the Great Depression, when Courier employees took a 10 percent pay cut and the Morning Tribune could not make payroll until carriers brought in their route collection money.

The Courier finally purchased the Morning Tribune in 1931, but not its radio station with the namesake call letters of WMT. That was purchased by a Des Moines Register subsidiary and moved to Cedar Rapids, where it has operated for decades under different owners.

After acquiring the Tribune, the Courier’s circulation increased from 21,000 in 1930 to 33,000 in 1931, but that dropped back to 27,200 by 1933 due to the Depression. The Courier used some of proceeds from the Tribune sales to establish the Cedar Falls Daily News in 1937, which went defunct after a short period. Bruce A. Palmer became the Courier’s first full-time photographer during that period.

John Hartman, who received the Iowa Press Association’s Master Editor award, died in 1941, leaving behind a paper of 35,000 circulation, an extensive history of Black hawk County and an estate bequest that evolved into what is now Hartman Reserve Nature Center.

After Hartman’s death his nephews, John P. von Lackum II and Karl von Lackum, became president and vice president, respectively of the W.H. Hartman Co. and Jackson McCoy became editor while retaining the title of general manager.

World War II brought exponential growth and challenges to the Courier. Its circulation topped 40,000; at the same time, newsprint was in short supply, matched only by shortage of its personnel who were called into military service. As was the case with many industries women filled the void, in addition to traditional roles in the “women’s department,” forever shattering another gender barrier. The Courier was the first to report the Waterloo’s five Sullivan brothers missing after the USS Juneau went down on Nov. 13, 1942. In an era of voluntary censorship to protect troop movements during the war, the news was not broke until January 1943.

Managing Editor Gene Thorne, who saw combat service in Sicily and Italy, returned home and back to work in time to order the presses to roll the day an “extra” reporting the war’s end roll off the presses. It was the last “extra” the paper would produce until the Iraq war began in March 2003.

In this July 1973 photo, an historic cornerstone bearing the inscription, “Waterloo Courier 1903,” is removed from the building at 209 W. Park Ave., which had been occupied by Gates College since 1924 and was formerly occupied by The Courier (then called The Waterloo Evening Courier). Genevieve von Lackum, president of the W. H. Harman Co., lends a hand as J.L. Roof Jr. and workmen remove the cornerstone, which movers said would be saved for future use.

The paper’s growth was concurrent with that of Deere and Rath, both of which supported the war effort with tank transmissions and meat for U.S. troops and as part of the lend-lease program. Growth continued after the war into the late 1940s and early ‘50s punctuated by two major strikes at Rath in 1948 and Deere in 1950.

Tragedy struck the paper on June 22, 1952, when Jackson McCoy died following an emergency appendectomy. His son, Robert McCoy, trained in the trade, would succeed him at age 31 and lead the paper over the next 30 years as Waterloo and Cedar Falls entered an era of unprecedented prosperity. Circulation broke the 50,000 mark and, in the mid-1970s the Courier became one of the first computerized newsrooms in the country, earning international recognition and visits from industry professionals from around the world. Gender barriers continued to be broken when Pat O’Conner was named the paper’s first woman assistant city editor in the late 1970s. The Courier also saw some of its first African-American reporters during this time, including, among others, Glenn Reedus and Linda Turner.

The Courier also operated the Cedar Falls Record, a Tuesday-through-Saturday morning paper which complemented the Courier’s afternoon publication schedule, operated on its own offset press and won numerous awards for reporting and news writing.

The Courier phased out the old hot-metal type in favor off an offset press, and moved its presses from the Park Avenue side of the building to the adjacent former Montgomery Ward building along West Fourth Street. In the early 1980s, typewriters in the newsroom were abandoned completely in favor of computer terminals.

Local ownership of the paper came to an end in the early 1980s when McCoy, acting on behalf of the von Lackum family, engineered a purchase of the Courier by Howard Publications of Oceanside, Calif. James Lewis was installed as publisher. Howard took the reins during difficult economic times in the 1980s. Rath liquidated, Deere cut its work force by 10,000, and the Courier, like other businesses, was similarly affected. An initial batch of across-the board the board cuts were implemented, resulting in layoffs. The Record closed, its news product merged into the Courier and the paper became known as the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Nevertheless, Howard recapitalized the paper with press improvements and Lewis, following McCoy’s tradition, quietly maintained the paper’s editorial independence with community leaders for two decades.

Ownership of the paper was brought back inside Iowa when Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, which already owned and operated the Quad-City Times and the Mason City Globe-Gazette, bought The Courier and most other Howard papers in early 2002. It also marked the first time The Courier became part of a publicly traded corporation. In 2004, Nancy L. Green, Lee’s corporate vice president of circulation, became the first woman publisher in the paper’s history. In 2007, Green named managing editor Nancy Raffensperger Newhoff, a 28-year newsroom veteran of the paper, to succeed departing Howard alum Saul Shapiro as the paper’s first woman editor.

The Courier faced major challenges in 2008, when June flood waters backing up through storm drains flooded the buildings basement along with a good portion of downtown Waterloo. The building had to be evacuated for several days. The paper received printing help from The Gazette in Cedar Rapids and newsroom operations were temporarily relocated to Hawkeye Community College, as the paper continued operating and keeping the public informed as the area sought to recover from the twin spring disasters of a killer tornado and a flood.

The Courier took another difficult but significant step later in 2008 when it began printing the paper out of a central printing house in Cedar Rapids, ending press operations here. It resulted in job losses — the most at one time since the Howard acquisition in the early 1980s — but avoided the substantial expenses that would have been incurred from buying a new press, in favor of an existing state-of-the-art operation with multiple capabilities.

Contact Pat Kinney at (319) 291-1426 or