December 20, 1899: The Birth of the Seattle Union Record

Front page of the Seattle Union Record announcing the Seattle General Strike, February 3, 1919

Front page of the Seattle Union Record announcing the Seattle General Strike, February 3, 1919

Seattle’s history as a pro-labor town dates back well before the famous 1919 General Strike. It goes back in fact at least twenty years before that much-discussed event — specifically to the date in focus here, when the Seattle-based Western Central Labor Union (WCLU) voted to approve a proposal to publish a pro-labor newspaper in Seattle.

The first issue of the resulting paper, the Seattle Union Record, was published on February 20, 1900, under the ownership of the WCLU and the editorship of Gordon Rice, who had edited the short-lived Labor Gazette in 1894. The Union Record was originally published as a weekly paper, 6-8 pages in length, until April 1918, when it became a daily paper. Rice edited the paper until 1912, when Erwin Bratton “Harry” Ault (1883-1961) was chosen as its editor. Born in Newport, Kentucky, and raised in Washington state, Ault came to the Union Record from a long career working for newspapers, beginning as a newsboy at the age of five and working up to the positions of editor and publisher. Most of the papers Ault had then worked for were openly progressive in nature, including The Weekly People and The Socialist. He would go on to edit the Union Record until its final issue, dated February 28, 1928.

Erwin Bratton "Harry" Ault (1883–1961)

Erwin Bratton “Harry” Ault (1883–1961)

Ault, a passionate socialist, was largely responsible for making the Union Record the force it would become within Seattle city politics by the time of the 1919 General Strike. In an editorial published in the Union Record on July 1, 1918, Ault expressed his vision of the paper’s mission, writing:

“The Union Record will help you win a greater prosperity. . . . the Union Record is the only paper in Seattle that dares to be consistent in its fight for the working man. . . . It gives you all the news the other papers give, and, in addition, the news the other papers will not print. It is the one paper that stands between you and industrial slavery.”

Under Ault’s editorship, the Union Record‘s daily circulation would steadily increase from 3,000 to 80,000 at its peak. Later, of course, the paper would become most famous for publishing Anna Louise Strong’s incendiary “No One Knows Where” editorial, which would help foment the 1919 General Strike.

Despite its labor background and ownership, the Seattle Union Record was not merely a newsletter of the WCLU, but rather a full-coverage newspaper, covering local, national, and international events. While its core target audience always remained union members, it always aspired to compete with Seattle’s other daily newspapers for a general audience. Its ultimate achievement today remains its historical status as both America’s first labor-owned daily newspaper and the longest-running.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Murray Morgan, “Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle” (Viking Press, 1951; Ballantine Books, 1971; University of Washington Press, 1982); Mary Joan O’Connell, “The Seattle Union Record, 1918-1928: A Pioneer Labor Daily,” M.A. thesis, University of Washington, 1964; John J. Reddin, “The Union Record Recalled — First Hand,” The Seattle Times, November 8, 1967.

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About radsearem

Jeff Stevens is a Seattle native and author of the forthcoming City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle.
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