170 years ago, May 14, 1842, the Illustrated London News, founded by Herbert Ingram who pioneered the use of wood-engraved illustrations, published its first issue, consisting of 16 pages with 32 engravings. The newspaper images were typically accompanied by first-hand accounts of newsworthy events.
Some of the stories and photographs which appeared in the first issue included: Paris fashions; a Parliamentary report; a tragic railway accident near Paris; a horrific steamboat explosion in America; and the War in Afghanistan.
The first issue of ILN sold 26,000 copies; during the Great Exhibition (1851) in Hyde Park, circulation jumped to 130,000 a week, and to 200,000 in 1855 when five of its artists were covering the Crimean War. By 1863, its circulation reached 300,000 compared to 70,000 for London’s leading daily newspaper, The London News.
In sharp contrast to other penny press publications flourishing in London at the time, which tended to focus on sensational news like violent crimes and gruesome murders, ILN’s core audience were the ``respectable families of London’’; and so the thrust of many of ILN’s pictorial essays dealt with panoramic views of London, its urban development, its grandiose churches, the latest fashions (especially French fashions) its exhibition halls and the Royal Family, especially the captivating appeal of young Queen Victoria. ILN displayed a number of pictorials of practically every phase of the construction of the Crystal Palace, the magnificent cast-iron and plate-glass building used to house the Great Exhibition.
Above all, what made these illustrative displays so revolutionary at the time is that it allowed the lower classes of Britain and the illiterate for the first time to see for themselves the Monarchy, what they looked like, what they were doing through their travels and to feast their eyes on such magnificent pageantry.
ILN pulled out all the stops when it came to displaying a dazzling collection of pictures of the Royal Family at the Great Exhibition (1851) and the first Royal Jubilee in 1887; and even when the news from the Royal Family wasn’t so significant, readers were still able to whet their appetite with a regular feature called "Court and Haut Ton’’ which reported on some of the more trivial activities of the Royal Family. The January issue of ILN, for example, was particularly popular with readers when it showed the pomp and solemnity of the opening of Parliament.
In keeping with their theme of catering to the ``respectable’’ middle class audience, ILN was at the forefront of portraying the Queen as a devoted wife, loving mother and frequently showing pictures of newly born babies in the Royal Family. One of the most influential pictures ILN ever ran was in 1848, showing Victoria and Albert gathered around a decorated Christmas tree with their children. The idea of gathering around the Christmas tree was a tradition Prince Albert remembered fondly from his childhood in Germany. Once these Christmas pictures of the Royal Family hit the streets of London, gathering around a decorated Christmas became a permanent annual tradition with most families in Britain with trees bedecked with candles, along with sweets, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts.
Other historic events covered by ILN included: the Irish Famine of 1847, the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in 1861, while over 150,000 copies alone were snatched up when they reported on the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.
Herbert Ingram was born on May 27, 1811 at Paddock Grove, Boston, Lincolnshire, the son of a butcher. While working as a printer in London, he noticed newspapers sold much faster if they contained woodcut illustrations.
Among his many attributes, Ingram was a staunch liberal reformer who used ILN to crusade against a number of social ills in society, particularly his distaste for child labor. Beginning in 1856, Ingram continued his social crusades as a member of the British House of Commons until his death.
Ingram died tragically on September 8, 1860. While traveling aboard the steamship Lady Elgin on Lake Michigan on his way to the U.S. with his eldest son, the ship sank after colliding with another vessel.
The enduring legacy of The Illustrated London News is that of being the world's first illustrated newspaper, which paved the way for other prominent illustrative publications who followed in their path, such as the French L'lllustration and Le Monde Illustre; Germany's Illustrierte Zeitung; Amsterdam's Hollandsche Illustratie; America's Leslie's Weekly, and Harper's Weekly.
The Illustrated London News was published weekly until 1971, monthly until 1989, and bimonthly until ceasing publication in 2003.
May 14, 2012