History of the Crimson Survival, Solvency, and, Once in a While, Something Serious to Editorialize About

Resting peacefully in a tattered red book which lies in reverence and dust somewhere high in the stacks of Widener are ten wistful and somewhat historical little words: "We earnestly request contributions from all members of the University."

This hopeful appeal for aid is buried in a mass of editorial trivia in Volume I, Number 1 of an upstart literary magazine which first made its appearance in January, 1873, sporting the title of Magenta.

The ten original editors could not have known that their brainchild was destined to survive with incredible stamina an epidemic of wars, fierce competition, and depression, and to emerge as today's thriving enterprise, The Harvard Crimson, Inc.

If anything, indications were that the bi-weekly 16-page collection of tidbits and fiction would soon be a nostalgic memento, hung on the walls of its first home, a journalistically uninspiring room in Stoughton Hall. Five previous publications since 1810 had folded, and the Magenta began under the inauspicious attitude of the Dean of the College who "expressed strong disapproval" of the venture.

But the paper ignored the Dean, managed to survive, and when the College officially changed its color in 1875 the Magenta followed suit and became the CRIMSON.

Gay 90's


Sports news played a very large part in the CRIMSON of the Gay 90's. Detailed accounts of the daily football practice were invariably given top billing, and minor jugglings in the JV crew boatings rated detailed accounts. There was a lot of talk, even in the paper, about over-emphasis of athletics, but even so, the CRIMSON published a series in 1893 giving a recapitulation of Harvard's encounters with Yale in every major sport for the past five years.

Beginning in the early '90's, however, the social club aspects of the '80's were giving way to a more serious concern with journalism. The good-time editors of the '80's had even written a drinking song about the CRIMSON, and while it survived until the '20's, Crimeds were obviously tiring of a schmaltzy song about a newspaper.

Not that the editors entirely renounced their pleasant vices. The paper's office moved around a good bit in those days and wherever it went there was a sanctum, the center of exuberant convivality. Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled years later the occasion of the transfer of quarters to the Union in 1891: "There was much fear that the new quarters would take away the espirit de corps which had grown up in the old sanctum, and also that no punch night could be held in the Union. Both fears proved to be groundless."

But if good times remained, they co-existed with serious journalism. In the 90's the custom of publishing extras after football games was born. The first experiment was in 1892 on the day of the Harvard-Princeton baseball game. The newsboys were in the Square just four minutes and fifty-four seconds after the game.

Competition arose to test the newfound sense of journalistic purpose. In 1894 the Daily News was founded which enjoyed a brief but respectable history, and suffered in a bitter and somewhat violent rivalry with the entrenched CRIMSON. The new-comer finally folded in 1895, and loyal Crimeds gathered in the Sanctum under the hastily constructed banner, "No News is Good News."

With the News out of the way, the CRIMSON was free to continue its gradual progress to financial solvency. In fact, mere solvency was replaced by unheard-of prosperity, and the Lampoon took advantage of the pleasant situation to issue the first local parody. Aided by a traitorous Crimed, the funnymen put out a spurious issue announcing, among other things, that the fat CRIMSON would give a $1 rebate to all subscribers who called at the office. The stunt left a good deal of hard feeling.

Beginning with President Lowell's active administration in 1900, the CRIMSON began to dig itself out of several ruts. Action pictures began to appear, and the typographical format was livened up. Editorials ceased to plod along, and news copy was generally sharper.

But if the editors had some reason to be satisfied with their products, they were not happy with their environment. By 1914 there was more than a little agitation for a private CRIMSON building. Undergraduate interest and graduate financing combined on the project, and in 1915 the CRIMSON ceased its nomadic existence and settled down at 14 Plympton Street, never to unsettle again.


No doubt for a while, CRIMSON editors treated their new quarters more kindly than successive generations would, and the paper was certainly kind to them in the first few successful years on Plympton Street. But it was too good to last, and the edition of April 5, 1917, announced with three-inch box-car headlines, "WAR."

The CRIMSON has had good reason to appreciate the high costs of war. Both world wars have virtually bankrupted it-and taken the lives of thirty-four editors. In 1917 the paper struggled on for the next eighteen months-and then capitulated.