Ask McGehee: Didn’t Mobile once have two different daily newspapers?

In the late 1920s, Mobile had only one newspaper, which published a morning and weekly afternoon edition. Mississippi-born Frederick Ingate Thompson owned The Mobile Register, and he seemed to work overtime in alienating his readers. Soon after his arrival, the editors lost all input, with the only opinion expressed being that of Thompson.

Thompson was a born dictator, and it soon became clear that he would do his best to run or ruin any operation he came across. With only one area newspaper in an era before radio or television, advertisers and readers had no choice. Record profits allowed the paper to move into a spacious new building on St. Joseph Street, in the shadow of the recently completed Merchants National Bank tower.

In 1929, a group of Mobilians organized and formed a competing paper, The Mobile Press. The stockholders of the new paper consisted of the heads of the two largest banks in town, along with prominent businessmen. The newspaper operated within an abandoned Presbyterian church on the northeast corner of St. Michael and Jackson streets. Their motto was “Easier to read and worth reading, ” and their first issue was printed on April 15. 

In the late 1920s, The Register operated from this building on St. Joseph and St. Michael streets.

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Eric Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

Hard Times

In hindsight, 1929 was probably not the best year to start a business of any kind. Within a few months, the stock market crashed, leaving both newspapers scrambling for advertisers and readers. The Press benefited from its stellar array of backers, while Thompson attempted to fill his Register with expensive nationally syndicated columns and features to attract and keep readers.

When Thompson decided to run for a seat in the senate the following year, the editor of the Press had a field day. While campaigning against John H. Bankhead, II, the publisher touted that he was a Mobilian and asked for his neighbors’ votes. The Press answered: “The audacious presumption of Thompson to ask for votes from Mobilians on the grounds that he is “a neighbor” should be buried under an avalanche of adverse votes. Deeds and not residence establish the neighborliness of any man.”

Thompson lost by a landslide, and within two years sold his failing newspaper to the Press. The new Mobile Press Register began operations out of a converted Chevrolet showroom on St. Louis Street before moving into yet another former car dealership on Government Street.

The Mobile Press Register remained an independently owned newspaper until 1966 when New Jersey native Solomon Irving Newhouse purchased a controlling interest. A 1974 news article noted “Mr. Newhouse made no changes in the operation in either the news department or any of the mechanical departments.” His descendant has had other ideas.

Ironically, in the 1820s, the Register published a city paper just twice a week. The current publication has announced a similar arrangement of three editions per week. Perhaps, it’s time for Mobile to start another newspaper. It worked before.

Tom McGehee

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