The Gleaner was born in 1834, a time of fundamental change for Jamaica. This year marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the British colonies. At that time business in Kingston was done mainly by auction.
This led two half-brothers, Jacob and Joshua deCordova, to seize a business opportunity to publish deCordova’s Advertising Sheet for the buying and selling of goods.
Following on the success of their first publication, on September 13, 1834, they launched the first edition of The Gleaner and Weekly Compendium of News, the predecessor to the current Gleaner.
The paper was published on Saturdays for a subscription of ten shillings per quarter for the city and thirteen shillings and four pence for rural areas.
Three months later they changed the billing to The Gleaner: A Weekly Family Newspaper Devoted to Literature, Morality, the Arts and Science and Amusements. Two years later they merged deCordova’s Advertising Sheet with The Gleaner to produce a four-page paper published every day except Sundays. The advertisements were printed on a separate sheet and distributed for free by five o’clock every morning and the whole paper was ready for subscribers by six o’clock in the morning.
A fire destroyed The Gleaner plant in 1882 and for two weeks the paper had to be printed at the Government Printing Office. Rebuilding after the fire, The Gleaner remained “the Old Lady of Harbour Street” for almost a century until she moved to her present location on the corner of North and East streets.
On June 10, 1897, The Gleaner went public under the stewardship of Joshua deCordova. Since then the family who founded The Gleaner has been represented on the board of directors of the company by the Ashenheim family. Under Joshua’s stewardship, The Gleaner identified with and promoted Jamaican business, even promoting tourism as a guarantor of the Jamaica Exhibition in 1891.
The earthquake of January 14, 1907 destroyed most of the city of Kingston, including the Gleaner building on Harbour Street. It would take two years of litigation bedore the English insurance companies finally paid earthquake damage claims and a new enlarged building could be erected.
Four days after the building was completely destroyed, the newspaper was on the street again. An ‘emergency’ edition, printed at the Government Printing Office, was headlined “The Earthquake and the Future” and sold for three pence. The editorial read:
“On Monday evening we were struck by an earthquake and within forty seconds our capital had fallen and over 1,000 persons lay dead and dying on the ground…The blow has been terrible (but) we will not allow ourselves to be terrified.”
THE BIRTH OF THE SUNDAY GLEANER
Motor delivery routes were established across the island in 1920, and a special magazine section, known popularly as “The Pink Sheet”, as it was printed on pink paper, was added to the Saturday Gleaner in 1925. It featured highlights of local social events.
In 1939, right after the outbreak of World War II, the Sunday Gleaner was introduced. During the war, newsprint and gasoline became scarce and the size of the Daily Gleaner had to be kept at eight or ten pages while the few gallons of rationed gas available had to be used to transport reporters covering news. Papers were delivered by train, bicycle, donkey, mule, boys on foot and anything else that could move without gas.
During the years that Michael deCordova, who joined the paper in 1888, was managing director of the company, The Gleaner became a Jamaican institution. It became a modern internationally recognized newspaper.
Michael deCordova established Gleaner funds to collect money for disaster relief and worthy causes. Among the initiatives was the opening of a fund to purchase bombing planes for Britain. Michael was also a founding member of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation.
In 1969 “The old lady of Harbour Street” moved to a modern five storey plant on North Street, its present location.
In 1976, Oliver F. Clarke joined The Gleaner, accepting an invitation to do so by then-Chairman Leslie Ashenheim. He left Jamaica National Building Society and headed to North Street on secondment for two years. He remained at the Gleaner for 36 years.
Mr. Clarke initiated and presided over a Gleaner milestone. A $4million mortgage debenture loan, the largest stock issue ever placed on the Jamaica money market at the time, was floated in July 1978 and oversubscribed in four weeks. The debenture was used to refinance existing short-term high-interest loans and helped to steer the company once more into a profitable position.
BIG CHANGES AT THE GLEANER
The Gleaner was one of the first newspapers in the Caribbean to ‘go computer’.
Towards the end of 1982, the production of The Gleaner was revolutionized by the advent of a three million dollar computer system. In the newsroom, typewriters all but disappeared, their incessant bang and clatter replaced by the electronic hum and gentle percussion of computer terminals.
The 1990s also was a watershed era for The Gleaner on December 7, 1992, the name of the paper was changed from The Daily Gleaner to The Gleaner.
Dig More in honour of The Gleaner
The Gleaner Company has had a resounding effect on Jamaica as well as on the men and women who have worked there throughout the years. Here is an abbreviated look at what they had to say about their experiences
A look at the famous Jamaicans that got their start at The Gleaner…