WILLIAM R. ALLISON, editor and publisher of The Ohio Press of Steubenville, is one of the veterans of Ohio journalism, and through a long and useful career in his profession, has honored his calling by a steadfast adherence to lofty principles and independence of all considerations save the greatest good of the people. Mr. Allison was born at West Middleton, Washington Co., Penn., April 24, 1818. In childhood he enjoyed the educational advantages afforded by the academy at his native town, then under that efficient instructor, Prof. Sloan.
In 1837 his father removed to Cambridge, Guernsey Co., Ohio, and accompanying him there, Mr. Allison spent a short time in the dry goods trade, and was then inducted into the mysteries of printing, under Mr. Lambert Thomas, proprietor of the Guernsey Times. Two years later (1839), he was induced to buy the office, and he then made his debut as an editor and publisher of that journal, the county organ of the whig party. Not long afterward he sold the office at an advanced price, to Hon. Charles J. Albright, and subsequently bought the Cadiz Republican in 1840, a year memorable as the great Harrison presidential campaign. In this exiciting struggle Mr. Allison made a gallant fight for Harrison and Tyler, against democratic editors and leaders of greater age and experience, and formerly democratic, to a sure whig district, and more recently reliably republican. On the night of election hundreds of whigs from town and country, gathered at the office of the editor, then known as "the beardless boy", and cheered him hearitly, for his services in helping to revolutionize--change from a democratic to a whig county--which has been whig and republican ever since.
While at Cadiz, Mr. Allison was married to Rachel A., daughter of Rezin Welch, a prominent banker of that place. During his residence here, also, he took a vigorous part in the Henry Clay campaign of 1844, devoting day and night to self-sacrificing work in behalf of the cause of the most able and popular southern stateman in the history of the nation. He did all he could to secure the election of the great Kentucky statesman; rallied voters to his support by the follwoing enthusiastic proclamation at the head of the editorial page of his paper:
High sounds our bugle call;
The voice of battle's on the breese,
Arouse, Whigs--arouse, one and all."
In 1846 Mr. Allison purchased and assumed editorial charge of the Steubenville Herald. The whig press throughout Ohio and states hailed this movement with approbation, as Mr. Allison's valiant endeavors for the party had aroused their admiration, and as he was entering a county which had theretofore given a democratic majority of 500 to 700, it was hoped that the vigorous paper that he would issue would have a material effect in producing a revolution in politics. The wish was gratified most amply, as the county has since then given a republican majority as high as 2,000. Besides, the congressional district which was controlled by democrats during the same time, by a majority of from 1,200 to 1,500 has become solid republican since by a majority of from 3,500 to as high 4,200.
The Herald, when purchased and taken charge of editorially by W. R. Allison in 1846, attained at once a prominent and creditable position among the weeklies of the state, but before the first year of his management was ended, the editor projected a great advance. A telegraph line had been built from Pittsburgh to Steubenville, and Mr. Allison, in 1847, started the Daily Herald, the first daily established in eastern Ohio. The first number was printed March 29, 1847. The editor's duties were manifold, and many a morning at four o'clock he did the work of the pressman in addition to other duties, on an old Ramage press, once in the office of the Philadelphia Aurora, owned by Gen. Duane during the war of 1812. The daily succeeded, and in 1852 was larger and more business-like in appearance, than any daily paper published at that time in Pittsburgh. Mr. Allison continued to edit and publish the Herald, daily and weekly, until September 30, 1873, a period of twenty-seven and a half years. For more than a quarter of a century, Mr. Allison, through the medium of that influential journal, contended for the right, opposed the wrong, pleasded for the extension of freedom throughout the whole land, held up the hands of those who fought for the preservation of the Union, and throughout all that era of tremendous issues gave no uncertain sound, but labored with voice, pen and money that the right might prevail. He sold the Herald in 1873, and temporarily retired from the business, but in 1875 purchased a controlling interest in the St. Louis Dispatch, a journal which he published and edited in that city for four years, when he met with a serious financial misfortune. Induced to puchase, against his own judgment, by the officers of two banks that held large mortgages on the office, who promised to carry the debt as long as the interest was paid, but both banks during the prevalence of a protracted panic, or in the brief period of two years and three months, failed. So the accumulated profits of a life's labor were attached and appropriated to the payment of the debts of the Dispatch Company, debts incurred before he made the investment.
In 1879, the term--five years--he was to remain out of business here when he sold the Herald, 1873, having expired, he was induced by almost universal request and liberal patronage, to start the Ohio Press, a third paper which he established and made prosperous, something which had been frequently undertaken, not only by individuals, but by corporations abundantly supplied with capital, but always with failure. That strong hold on the confidence of the great mass of the substantial and intelligent citizens of eastern Ohio, which he had obtained in the ownership of the Herald, enabled him to still find an appreciative audience. He has, during his editorial career, published a daily paper thirty, and a weekly forty-eight, years, and during that time has evidently done more in the interests of the republican party, of the citizens of town and country, of public improvements of all kinds, railroads especially, than any other man in the city. In the cause of one improvement alone, the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis railroad, he published not less than 200 columns, giving $2,000 worth of labor gratis. Some of the best and most prominent statesmen were originally announced and their nominations to office advocated for the first time by Mr. Allison. He was the first to bring forward Hon. Benjamine F> Wade for the United States senate in 1850, advocated the claims of Judge William Johnson, who became the whig candidate for governor; and urged in 1858 the nomination to congress of Hon. John A. Bingham, who for sixteen years afterward, represented the district, which Charles Sumner adjured to "keep Bingham in congress, not only for the benefit of the country, and honor to him, but to give the district a national reputation."
Mr. Allison was the last editor in Ohio to give up the whig party, and the second to champion John C. Fremont for the presidencey. Notwithstanding these services Mr. Allison has had that experience somewhat common to journalists, of meeting with opposition from some whom he had nedessarily offended in his profession, when friends contemplated for him some political honor. In 1862, he was supported by his county for the nomination to congress, and while unable to secure his honor, he was effective in bringing about the nomination of Gen. E. R. Eckley, of Carrollton. In 1879, he applied for a position from the administration of President Hayes, as minister resident to Central American states, in which he was encouraged by the administration, invited to Washington by ex-President Hayes, and supported by many prominent politicians, but influences of greater potency secured the neglect of his claims, upon the popular theory adopted by politicians, that it is the duty of an editor to labor to put others in office, but that he was no sunject to apply for a place of honor or emolument himself. At this time, however, he had the satisfaction of receiving the recommendations of the secretary of the treasury, Hon. John Sherman, the press of St. Louis, senators and congressmen of Missouri, Ohio and New York, ex-Governor Dennison, Sen. John B. Henderson, Hon. John A. Bingham, the famous engineer, James B. Eads, and many others of eminence, to which was added a letter from that noble son of Ohio, subsequently president of the United States, James A. Garfield, referring to Mr. Allison, as "a man of conspicuous ability and devoted to republicanism", in reading which, Secretary Evarts remarked, "this letter is sufficiently creditable to get W. R. Allison a position in almost any department of the government, which with me, will have, comparatively speaking, an unrestricted influence".
So, while the veteran editor, W. R. Allison, has attained quite a prominence in his profession--labored nearly half a century as editor--published a weekly forty-eight years, and a daily thirty years, owing to financial failure in life, he has adopted a proverb, applicable to this age, which he frequently repeats and which should be an admonition to all, to avoid such adverse cicumstances. "In homely old age and bad health--in poverty more especially, a man gets little personal respect--no credit for past services for individuals, party, town or country--the older he is, the less he knows, the more experience the bigger the fool".
Copyright © 2006 Danice Ryan. All rights reserved.