Newspapers are the first draft of history, and reading the actual 19th century coverage of historic events will provide fascinating details.
The sunken treasure of vintage newspapers remained far from public view for many decades. But thanks to recently digitized archives, we can now see exactly what rolled off the printing presses in the 19th century.
The blog items in this collection feature links to actual newspaper headlines and articles about significant events, as seen when the ink was still fresh on the page.
The war in the mid-1850s between the great European powers was watched from a distance by Americans. News of the Siege of Sevastopol traveled quickly to England via telegraph, but then took weeks to reach America. Accounts of how the combined British and French forces finally conquered a Russian fortress were major stories in American newspapers.
Related: The Crimean War
The eruption of the enormous volcano at Krakatoa in the western Pacific was unusual for many reasons, including the astonishing fact that the news of the cataclysm reached Europe and the United States within hours. Recently installed undersea telegraph cables carried frantic transmissions from present day Indonesia detailing the massive explosion and its aftermath.
The breaking news of Krakatoa was not the end of the disaster. For months afterward weird red sunsets, which we now know were caused by volcanic ash in the atmosphere, frightened people. And the newspapers covered both the spectacle and the speculation about the spooky sunsets.
In the years following the Civil War, Americans needed some distraction in their lives. And they got it when a new invention known as the velocipede came along. An early version of the bicycle, velocipedes began appearing on American streets in the late 1860s and accounts of people riding them turned up in newspapers.
The initial coverage of what would become bicycling is interesting because no one seemed to think of the devices as useful for practical transportation. But as odd attractions the velocipede craze enjoyed a heyday in the press.
When the former president and Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant died in the summer of 1885, the United States seemed to pause and reflect upon the passing of an era. Grant's enormous funeral in New York City involved a vigil at City Hall, and a procession up Broadway consisting of 34,000 marchers. No one ever took an accurate count of spectators, which could have been more than one million.
The newspapers, of course, covered Grant's funeral in detail, even down to the details of how the site of his tomb overlooking the Hudson River had been selected.
The New York City political machine known as Tammany Hall played rough. And one of its leaders in the late 19th century, Richard Croker, ascended in the ranks thanks to his quick mind and some considerable street-fighting skills.
On Election Day in 1874, Croker got into a street corner scuffle, a pistol was fired, and a man named McKenna fell dead. Croker was arrested and charged with McKenna's murder. The newspapers covered every nugget of vivid testimony in his trial.
In the end, the jury was deadlocked. Croker was set free, and he went on to rule Tammany Hall and collect a fortune in bribes until he eventually retired to his native Ireland.
In late 1864 the Confederate government tried to launch an audacious attack that would disrupt the presidential election and perhaps put Abraham Lincoln out of office. When that failed, the plan transformed into an elaborate arson plot, with Confederate agents fanning out across lower Manhattan in one night, intent on setting fires in public buildings.
Fear of fire was taken very seriously in New York, which had suffered from cataclysms like the Great Fire of 1835. But the rebel arsonists, due mostly to ineptitude, only succeeded in creating a chaotic night. The newspaper headlines, however, spoke of "A Night of Terror" with "Fire Balls Thrown About."