'Mad Men' Reminded Me of the Big NY Newspaper Strike

05/13/2015 09:50 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2016

I was watching a Mad Men rerun and Don Draper mentioned the Journal American, which got me thinking of the old newspapers and the four that were lost because of the big newspaper strike of 1963. The Mad Men episode took place in 1960, when New York City was flush with daily newspapers. I wish I could have seen some of those old newspapers. I do have a copy of the New York Herald hanging on my wall from 1865 and while it's historic, I think the hey day of newspapers were in the 1940s and 1950s.

I love this line from a Vanity Fair article on the subject: "New York in 1962 was a city of fedoras and mink hats, Rheingold beer and Kent cigarettes -- a city where you could see Lenny Bruce at the Village Vanguard and Dinah Washington at Birdland. It was a place where anyone with a serious newspaper habit lived in a state of perpetual bliss: seven dailies appeared in rolling editions around the clock. 

The newspapers were the NY Times and New York Herald Tribune, the two upscale morning broadsheets; The NY Daily News, the Daily Mirror the two morning tabloids; The New york Post, the afternoon tabloid and the afternoon broadsheets: the New York Journal-American and the New York World-Telegram & Sun. Brooklyn had the Eagle, but that was not part of the strike.

The strike was against progress, the union that controlled the typesetters and guys that did the layout, were against new mechanized equipment. Today, it would be like newspapers being forbidden to publish online because the union didn't like it. A death knell.

For some reason, The Long Island Star-Journal also went on strike with the other seven newspapers.

For 114 days, there were no newspapers printed in New York City. 

The union workers, lead by Bertram Powers, felt that they were the newspapers, they were the manufacturers who put out the newspapers. The reporters came and went from paper to paper, but the unionized guys in the backroom stayed year after year.The union guys were against hot type (Linotype machines), turning into cold type, the new technology.

The strike had a trickle down effect and many city workers not even in the newspaper business lost jobs. People were very dependent on newspapers at the time, for everything.

The strike ended in 1963 but all the extra costs and lost circulations eventually killed four of them in 1966: the Herald Tribune, the Mirror, the Journal American and the World-Telegram & Sun. I've always been bothered by this, although I am sure that they would all have been gone by today, but who knows. The Herald-Tribune was very well regarded as a livelier New York Times. 

Today NYC has the Times, the News and the Post and Newsday, the Long Island daily can be gotten around the city. I remember when I was a boy, I delivered the Long Island Press, which had a larger circulation in Queens and Long Island itself. The Press went out of business in 1977.

When I think of all these newspapers, I can only imagine all the comics. It's said that the Herald Tribune had the best comics section, but aside from the NY Times, which never ran comics, I can just imagine all the comics in all those newspapers.

Some of the old newspaper buildings are still stand in Manhattan on Park Row, near City Hall, the New York Sun building has just been restored, the clocks on each corner are still there with the inscription, "The Sun. It shines for all." Next time I'm in NY I'll take a photo and post it, the last couple of years it's been blocked by scaffolding. 

The original "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" column in the NY Sun.