Nov. 21, 1921: The first edition of the Portland Press Herald is published. It is a merger of the former Portland Herald and the Portland Daily Press, which was founded in 1862.

Guy Gannett, an Augusta businessman, after being approached by owners of several papers in a cutthroat environment of declining revenue, eventually bought the Press, the Herald, the Portland Sunday Telegram, the Evening Express and the Waterville Morning Sentinel, all in 1921. He merged the Press and the Herald. In 1929, he added Augusta’s Kennebec Journal to his stable of investments.

If two daily newspapers were to merge today, the company doing so probably would coat the process with a thick, sweet gauze of public relations initiatives, offering special discounts, publishing self-congratulatory advertisements in the paper and composing soothing editorials to assure the public, or at least the advertisers, that everything is in order behind the scenes.

The Press Herald appears to have done little of that in 1921. In its first issue, there is no mention of the merger. The only hint at an effort to engage with readers is a box in the lower left corner of the front page that asks married women, competing for the prize of free theater tickets, to send in comments about their husbands in answer to questions such as, “Are YOU one of the million women whose lives are wasted?” and “How much deception should a wife tolerate on the part of her husband?”

That premier issue also features a number of unintentionally amusing headlines, such as, “DEATH YARMOUTH’S OLDEST WOMAN; WAS HUNDRED AND TWO.”

Apparently death was a woman, and she lived in Yarmouth.

The Press Herald, usually demonstrating a more professional tone and presentation, quickly becomes the flagship paper of the Gannett empire.

Gannett, and later his descendants, own the papers – except the Evening Express, which closes in 1991 – until 1998, when the company is sold to the Blethen family, which owns The Seattle Times. The papers’ ownership changes several times after that.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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