The San Francisco Call began life on December 1, 1856, as the Daily Morning Call. Staunchly Republican in political outlook, the Call was popular with the working classes, and it was the city’s leading morning newspaper for several decades. By the summer of 1864, the Call was boasting the highest daily circulation in the city, and its readership continued to rise, going from 10,750 in 1865 to 41,066 in 1880. In 1884 it boasted a circulation double that of any other daily. Originally a four page daily, the Call also put out a weekly, published on Tuesdays, and a Sunday edition. One of the paper’s early writers was Mark Twain, who served as Nevada correspondent in 1863 and as reporter after he moved to San Francisco the following year. In just over four months as full time beat reporter, Twain produced some 200 articles on crime and the courts, theater and the opera, and politics.
Among the original owners of the Call were James Joseph Ayers, Charles F. Jobson, and Llewellyn Zublin. Peter B. Forster soon joined the group, and, by May 1866, he became the paper’s publisher of record. In 1869, George K. Fitch, Loring Pickering, and James W. Simonton, owners of the rival San Francisco Bulletin, purchased the Call and ran it for over two decades. By the 1890s, the paper’s staff had grown to over 40, including editorial writers, sports reporters, and drama and art critics. In January 1895, after the deaths of Pickering and Simonton, the Call was sold in probate court to Charles M. Shortridge, publisher of the San Jose Daily Mercury.
Two years later, Shortridge relinquished control of the paper to John D. Spreckels, a noted industrialist and philanthropist, who increased the paper’s size to 14 pages. The Call reached the peak of its significance, coverage, and quality during this period. Novels were serialized in the 40 page Sunday issue and comic pages began to appear in 1903. Five years later, the Junior Call, an eight page tabloid supplement, began to appear on Saturdays. In the competition with the other morning papers, however, the Call was losing ground. At the time of the great earthquake and fire in 1906 the reported circulation of the Examiner was 98,000 as opposed to 80,000 for the Chronicle and 62,000 for the Call. William Randolph Hearst purchased the Call in 1913, merging it with the Evening Post, converted it to an evening newspaper, and renamed it as the San Francisco Call and Post. In July 1918, Hearst lured Fremont Older, who had begun his newspaper career some two decades earlier as a beat reporter at the Call, from the rival Bulletin and installed him as managing editor. Soon thereafter Hearst made John Francis Neylan, once a cub reporter on the Bulletin and later a protege of the Progressive Hiram Johnson, as publisher. The conversion of the Call from a conservative morning newspaper to a progressive evening newspaper was complete.
Note: Two indexes for the San Francisco Call are available on microfiche from the California State Library: one for the years 1893-1904; a second one for the period 1904-1913, combined with indexes for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner for the years from 1914 to the mid-century.