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Blethen, Alden J. (1845-1915)

HistoryLink.org Essay 1681 : Printer-Friendly Format

Alden J. Blethen purchased The Seattle Daily Times, a newspaper with a minuscule circulation, in 1896. Moving from Minneapolis to Seattle, Blethen then built the paper's circulation by introducing large display typefaces for headlines, many photographs, more dramatic (and highly partisan) news coverage, and a color comic Sunday supplement. Blethen's Times supported William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) for president in 1896, in opposition to the Republican Seattle Post-Intelligencer's candidate, William McKinley (1843-1901). (McKinley won the election to become the 25th president of the United States.) Blethen's Times passionately supported Cuban independence from Spain, leading up to the Spanish American War. Blethen's descendants continue (in 1999) to publish The Seattle Times.

Blethen was born in rural (Knox County) Maine on December 27, 1845. He first became a schoolteacher, and then a lawyer. At age 34, he moved his family to Kansas City and purchased part interest in the Kansas City Journal. His interest in newspapers apparently stemmed from a passion for politics and an ambition to influence public opinion.

Enter Colonel Blethen

After little success in Kansas, he moved to Minneapolis and became part owner of the Minneapolis Tribune. For the next 12 years, he operated the paper successfully and began to be called "Colonel," an appellation he preferred for the rest of his life.

In 1896, a newspaper known as The Seattle Daily Times published an item announcing Blethen's trip to the area to visit relatives. Three weeks later, he bought the paper, which was barely scraping by with a circulation of 6,000. He quickly renamed the paper The Seattle Evening Times and moved to larger offices. Newspapers then were much different than today, extremely partisan and highly charged, even in news stories. Blethen, a product of his day, went to work introducing an element of drama in news coverage that helped the paper to increase circulation. He made use of large display headlines and plenty of photographs, and introduced a Sunday supplement that featured comics in color.

In the following years, the paper's circulation continued to climb. Though a longtime supporter of the Republican Party, Blethen supported William Jennings Bryan for president, bringing him into direct competition with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the principal Republican newspaper in the state at the time.

Blethen passionately supported the cause of Cuban independence prior to the Spanish-American War and joined in the celebration surrounding the discovery of gold in Alaska in 1897.

Alden Blethen died on July 12, 1915, in Seattle. Several generations of Blethens continued to run the newspaper, now called The Seattle Times. A majority of the paper is still (1999) owned by the Blethen family.

Sources:
"A Century of Business," Puget Sound Business Journal, September 17, 1999; Junior Achievement of Greater Puget Sound Hall of Fame Series.


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Colonel Alden J. Blethen (1845-1915)



A. J. (Joseph) Blethen, son of Alden, ca. 1912



Clarence B. Blethen (1879-1941), ca. 1912



 
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