I first heard of The National Police Gazette in a book my cuz recommended to me by Elliot Gorn called The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America, a splendid social history of the emergence of boxing as a premier sport in America. The book explores the beginnings of pugilism in Britain as sport that tied aristocratic patrons to lower class boxers set against the tide of middle class reform in the age of enlightenment. While boxing’s popularity waned under enlightenment ideals in Britian, the sport took a different course in America, eventually becoming embraced by our middle class by the end of the nineteenth century and until recently holding a tight grip on the American imagination. A great read for certain, Gorn tells of early boxers like Yankee Sullivan, Tom Hyer, John Morrisey, and of how boxing culture was intertwined with pub life, gangs, politics, and other parts of American society. None of these early boxers would come near the fame of John L. Sullivan, and The National Police Gazette played a central role in catapulting Sullivan and his sport to the forefront of the American imagination.
The National Police Gazette began in 1845 as a sort of true crime periodical founded by Journalist George Wilkes and lawyer Enoch Camp. Camp retired in the early 50s and Wilkes sold out to retired police chief George Wahington Matsell who added racier material and illustrations until he sold out to his engravers as settlement for debts incurred who in turn handed the operation over in 1877 to Richard K. Fox, a recent Irish immigrant who had been selling advertising space for the engravers as a side job to hawking ads for the Commercial Bulletin.
Fox took the paper in new directions, dramatically increasing it’s circulation. The paper was now printed on a pinkish page, making it stand out from its competitors. Fox also increased the frequency of woodcut illustrations and began including pictures of burlesque beauties and vaudeville stars. Some modern authors have pointed to these ads and illustrations in pointing to the paper as the first girlie magazine in America. Cheap subscriptions were sold to bars, barbers, and other gentlemanly meeting places where many men might mull over the same copy of his pink paper. And in 1879, the introduced the country’s first true sports section and began covering prize-fighting, a sport still illegal in many locales and frowned upon as brutal and mean. Built on a working-class readership, Fox made boxers public figures, and his feud with John Sullivan was a spectacle of mutual promotion selling copy and spreading Sullivan’s fame. Fox would find opponents for Sullivan and defame his character while Sullivan would publicly respond and call out the publisher. The International Boxing Hall of Fame says Fox did more to popularize boxing than anyone else in the nineteenth century.
Anyways, some links…
A nice page at Everything 2 giving a brief history of the publication including some elements of its appeal to the working man
the introduction to Gene Smith’s 1972 book on the subject from the October 1972 edtion of American Heritage magazine with a great description of working conditons at the gazette and some of the more unsavory aspects of Fox’s character as well as the debt owed Fox by the likes of Hearst and Pulitzer
A modern website, cheeky homage to the paper with current events done in the gazette style. Also some neat links here to archival material, including some letters from Sullivan to the paper
And lest, I forget the cheesecake, A slideshow of the magazine during WWII featuring legs, smiles, and revealing outfits
Fox died in 1922 after his paper’s popularity had already begun to wane, and it was sold to Roswell and then to a Canadian publisher.
The links above speak to the pub’s decline after Fox’s death, here’s an issue from October 1962 when the magazine was Roswell owned. I’ve read a number of issues of this magazine from the 50s up, and I find them consistently entertaining. In a lot of ways, what happened to this magazine is pretty similar to what happened with a lot of the postwar publications. Pulpish paper was replaced by a slicker stock, more color and photos were added, all the production values upped in a sign of postwar prosperity. The pulps became men’s adventure magazines and the girlie pubs were edging more towards the likes of Playboy, Nugget, and Esquire. There’s plenty of fear and hysteria ala the cold war, but there’s plenty of material in the traditional vein of the magazine. Man’s “sports” like fishing, gambling, horsebetting, are covered along with lots of boxing. Healthy doses of cheesecake (certainly a bit more racy than the exposed anklets that aroused the male readers in the 19th century but tame by our current standards) along with true crime and sensational photos all combined to make this the nation’s longest running periodical, and this issue dabbles in all…
Castro! Sex! Lollo! I feel my pulse rising already
A nice range of manly interests, I always enjoy the variety in this magazine and broad appeal
Nice boxing content in this issue. A Sonny Liston interview and an article on Jack Johnson. A pink page hearkening back to the yesteryear of the gazette
When I was checking archive.org for same scans of early issues (which I sadly didn’t find) I came across a neat book in Fox’s series of athletic books on Johnson and other early boxers
The Life and Battles of Jack Johnson
You can also find some other books from that series including a techinical manual by Frank Gotch for Wrestling and a Boxing Manual by James Corbett for free download here. Other books in Fox’s series included entries on poker, dog fighting, craps, Jiu Jitsu, and cock fighting.
The centerfold, those dirty communists have all the fun!
Some other bits.
Friends have told me that they used to have men’s sweat magazines in the barbershop and that they used to sneak a peak. This mag upholds the tradition of giving page space to the barbers that subscribe to their rag
As American as apple pie. Thanks to Slinky for the raws for this issue. You can find some more scanned issues of this publication HERE. My thanks go out to the scanner that’s been posting these issues. Next time on Darwin radio: GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS